Politics and Pedagogy in the "Post-Truth" Era: Insurgent Philosophy and Praxis by Derek R. Ford

Review by Shantam Goyal, University at Buffalo

Large crowd holding protest signs, with a Student Debt Finish Line advertisement banner visible over the protestors.
A Rally for Refugees Protest at the Reagan National Airport, with a Student Debt Finish Line advertisement banner visible over the protestors (Livingston, 2017).

For Students

Running through the book is the well-stated difference between learning and study. For Ford, learning reaffirms our subjection to the state (p. 23), while study, in its potentiality or im-potentiality, is ongoing and without the necessity of "measurable outcomes" (p. 32). This he makes clear in the first chapter, "Studying in the Party." He continues into the second chapter, "In and Out of the Gap," by tracing a similar differentiation between truth and correctness. The truth is neutral while the correct is determined from a class perspective, and it is this differentiation that becomes the arena of collective political struggle. The slogans of a collectivity always assert a new reality which is "to be proven through struggle, vindicated through force" (p. 53). The potentiality of such a struggle is, however, compromised by the university compelling us to be the "perpetually indebted lifelong learner" (p. 59). This rhythm of futurity, which determines the student's life, Ford seems to suggest, is the result of a higher education geared toward a specific end or utility, that of realizing one's potential, which is predetermined within the ambit of capitalism.

The magic and uncertainty of imagination is a substitute for this utility, and for students, study, as opposed to learning, can pull them out of the repetitive indebtedness to the future. In Ford's third chapter, "The Sinthomostudier," he expands on this idea of endless and end-less studying using a term drawing on sinthomosexuality, which stands for sexuality which is non-heterosexual, non-reproductive, and non-utilitarian for the future of humanity. In this dexterous argument, Ford uses the example of student debt to demonstrate how learning becomes sense-making of the self for an always elusive futurity, without jouissance. On the other hand, sex as an encounter with non-knowledge makes us "transition from a sense of self to a nonsense of self," and allows us to go "beyond the symbolic and toward the Real" (pp. 66–67). A form of study molded on this idea would not disrupt capitalism straightaway but will create the possibility of political action because it embraces uncertainty, moving away from the urge to constantly seek sense and knowledge. This moment of what Ford terms "queer communist study" does not have to be resolved, but seized upon. In moving away from learning something in a practically applicable way, and toward non-sense, we desubjectify ourselves and become more amenable to be part of a collectivity (p. 68).

As is characteristic of Ford's writing, this idea of collectivity is grounded in examples and is explicated not as conceptual wordplay but rather as a realizable possibility. The affective charge of the idea still does not devolve into zombie intellectualism, but does take on the spirit of a manifesto, as it moves from concepts to precepts and from the student's helplessness to the hope engendered by communist study.