Platform for Pedagogy
Interview by Mimi Luse June 2010

Can you speak of a renewed, or a heightened interest in public pedagogy, in New York City in particular?

No, I don't know anything about that.

How many subscribers do you have?

A few more than we started with.

What is your process for choosing lectures? Are these sent to you or do you solicit them? What exactly are you looking for when you pick these lectures?

There is a certain politics and personal interest in the selection process, I think one could assess these quite easily from glancing at a few of the mailers. Then there is the notion of timeliness, the idea of what's on the news or even in the air. This is an interesting thing, to take the social temperature.

Can you comment on the idea of a platform as an aggregator that allows for multiple listings and multiple voices, as opposed to the voice of one institution?

I don't know that we're so interested in this... I also don't know that the project was ever implicitly about any sort of plurality. A promiscuity, maybe. For us, a platform is a useful model for a place where things happen, all kinds of things. It's a structure that doesn't inscribe itself in the landscape as architecture or an institution might, it's too close to the ground for that. It's also a model that, at the time we founded the project in early 2008, had not yet been thoroughly appropriated by the cultural criticism we were reading like some other very attractive words. Remember that a name is an important thing.

A recent E-Flux editorial introduced a series of educational or pedagogic initiatives and articles—each reflecting, as Irit Rogoff writes, an unease and a recognition of the dangers and limitations wrought by attempts to regulate and homogenize a vast range of education cultures. Does Platform for Pedagogy share that sentiment?

Yes, as far as Platform is concerned, I think we should be clear that the lecture is just one form of public pedagogy, and one that hasn't gone unchallenged in this century. Panels, for example, were an early attempt to get away from the speaker-audience dichotomy set up by the lecture. In a panel, the audience is supposed to see the speakers think and reason, rather than present polished arguments. Yet there's just something very nice about a lecture—to sit down in a theater, eager with notebook, and hear someone present their thoughts. There's a formal thing there, a sense also of geographic collectivity. There's likewise an enormous amount of generosity on the part of the speaker I think, especially the ones who aren't professional speakers or lecturers—to share their insights with others.

At the same time the authors of the E-Flux journal all seem somewhat bound up (financially, socially) in the very educational structures they are critiquing. It's by now a truism that the institutional critique is part of the institution. Can you talk about the loosening of educational structures and the institution's willingness to accept criticism and change? Have we reached a point where one is almost expected to lodge an institutional critique?

Yes, institutional critique often emerges from within the institution now—and I don't see anything unusual about self-criticism.

Beyond the price-barriers that block access, can you speak of the dynamics of the public lecture as opposed to those of an accredited course or degree?

When Henry M. Leipziger was the commissioner of Public Lectures in New York, many lectures were in fact set up as courses—meaning there would be a series of lectures, usually by one speaker, with each one building on the prior. These talks were in fact meant to benefit the uneducated and underprivileged. Today, public lectures are often sponsored by institutions of higher learning, and have evolved into programming intended for an educated audience of professionals often well acquainted with a discipline. Unfortunately these events often fail to be promoted outside the hosting department and even more rarely beyond the institution—so while they are ostensibly public in practice they encourage a kind of insider audience.

Intellectual promiscuity and exposure to market forces are both potentially generative aspects of leading an intellectual life outside of a more sheltered institutional or academic context. Which is not to say that this is an easy thing to do, especially in this country. Two years ago when we started the project, we happened to find ourselves and each other in a city that was home to a number of powerful universities with great public or semi-public programming, as well as various other cultural organizations that did some programming. Being outside of these systems, we wanted nevertheless to harness our proximity to them, to help direct ourselves and our friends there, but also very much to make possible a way for people outside the university system to have access to certain timely and developing cultural work. There is also another matter, a crucial matter. It is one of coming together, in time and space, even if only with strangers.

While your listserv is open to anyone, it still caters to a specific liberal, educated, elite. Who is the imagined audience of your listserv?

I would say our audience is people with cross-disciplinary interests.

Artistic production and art-related initiatives have recently taken up the idea of pedagogy as an artistic practice; via the lecture form, or through initiatives like the Bruce High Quality Foundation. How is this related to relational aesthetics, if at all?

There are many others going on right now in Manhattan and the outer boroughs, and it's not surprising. New York is an echo chamber. But the language you are using here to describe those echoes originates in the 90s, perhaps from a single individual's continental vision of his day's serious art. It's not a bad vision necessarily; it is also not uninspiring. But pedagogy in art—in the explicit, performative and aesthetic form you seem to be interested in—has been around much longer. Think of Beuys.

How can this be linked to community building? In what ways can public pedagogy strengthen communities as an alternative to consumer-exchange based relationships?

Intellectual work and culture can certainly create communities and collectivity—politically motivated or otherwise. Pedagogy itself is usually associated with some kind of process of socialization—a lovely word, really. The echo in your question seems to be about the reification of community making—at least in densely metropolitan areas—into lifestyle brands, products and industries. Orienting a cultural project against this sort of historical development in culture and popular taste on a foundational level to me seems a bit academic and uninspired. Can we imagine, instead, imparting moral and intellectual questions as a critical component of popular taste—rather than simply pushing them out into the world as that taste's solvent?

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