The Sublime and Education
Introduction: Romantic Training: Education and the Sublime
J. Jennifer Jones, University of Rhode Island
This issue is devoted to exploring some of the ways we can think the entanglements of two concepts that are constitutive of Romanticism but are not often thought together, education and the sublime. What do these concepts share? A first response might well be mastery. A subject of education masters a field, a discipline, a skill, a practice; in turn she can become a master, newly contributing to and thus widening the given field or discipline in which she has been trained. A Longinian reader experiences a sense of pleasurable self-aggrandizement, what has been translated from the Peri Hypsous as "joy and vaunting," when the sublime enables her temporarily to identify the accomplishments of great writers and the experiences of great literature as her own accomplishments and experiences. A Burkean spectator enjoys a similar sense of self-aggrandizement and power in the knowledge that he can experience danger, pain, and even death vicariously, well out of immediate danger of suffering the bodily effects of any of them. The Kantian faculty of Reason demonstrates its capacity to transcend nature by substituting the failures of Imagination for the meta-conceptualization of itself as a free moral agent independent of the limits of the sensual world Imagination attempts to represent and of which it is a part. The notion of a shared promise of mastery—which, as we shall see, is a term in these pages always already under erasure insofar as it figures a practice whose attentiveness to contingency prevents it from settling into totality—proved a valuable entry point both for beginning to think the relation of these two terms and for thinking the types of reductions and preconceptions that this exercise might engender. As a group, the essays collected here might be understood as a highly sophisticated extension of the conversation noted above as they revise and renew discourses of romantic education and the sublime and the intricate entanglements in and with one another that the question of their commonality draws to attention.
As many of this issue's contributors suggest in their respective ways, and as Frances Ferguson so succinctly declares at the opening of her essay, the words education and sublime might seem at first to have in common only their contrasts. Typically, education involves confinement, regimentation, and discipline, and the sublime unrestraint and freedom. Furthermore, as Forest Pyle asserts at the opening of his essay, while sublime theory and criticism is eminently teachable (through disciplined classroom learning in a university setting, for example) the aesthetic experience of the sublime is not. "A sublime experience, after all, would be 'pre-critical,' and what pedagogy worthy of the name would aspire to that?" asks Pyle. Likewise, for Kant, who serves as a philosophical starting point for much of the work of this issue, aesthetics has no foundation, and so unlike science it cannot be taught. The subjective nature of aesthetic judgment means that it can be shared, and always feels as though it must be shared, but that we share it is not certain. Such commonality cannot be taught, enforced, or monitored. What I judge to be beautiful or sublime will always seem to me as though it ought necessarily to be observed and experienced as such by you and indeed by everyone. But, as Chris Braider argues in his essay, though "we would say that we could not be the creatures we are and not feel (or at any rate not be capable of feeling) the call of the sublime," there is simply no guarantee that the experience of others will accord with our own in matters of aesthetic judgment.
Turning to the example of The Prelude, we know that central forces at work in the spectral narrative of development of that poem are simultaneously pedagogical and aesthetic, so much so that it is easy to take that entanglement for granted. We would be remiss to teach The Prelude in any context, however introductory or advanced, without drawing attention to the poetic speaker's early claim that he "grew up / Fostered alike by beauty and by fear" (1805, I.305-306)—trained, that is, through and by aesthetics. "School" (1799, I.80), as we come to learn, is not, as a rule, populated by human adults who serve as pedagogues, save dead ones, and even those by proxy. The instructors, tutors, and guides that transform the poem's speaker from a "naked savage" (1799, I.26) into a mature Poet with the requisite knowledge, wisdom, and skill to be "capable / Of building up a Work that should endure" (1805, XIII.278-279) are non-human agential entities—"spirits" (1799, I.69); "powers" and "genii" (I.186); "a forming hand" (1805, II.382)—whose work, however indirect and spectral, is positively felt as disciplinary, and whose identities and effects are read as worldly manifestations of the aesthetic categories of the beautiful and the sublime.
The fact that Wordsworth imposes eighteenth-century aesthetic categories onto what we would come to recognize as Romantic-era pedagogical agents is not especially controversial. It is an acknowledged facet of the poem in all of its three major published versions. As the editorial note early in Part I of the 1799 version suggests, it has long been assumed that we ought to make sense of Wordsworth's invocation of these aesthetic categories as either the work of his "instinct" or his "training" (Wordsworth, Abrams, Gill 6, note 2). It has been the goal of this issue to create an occasion for its contributors to meditate on the wide body of texts—philosophical, literary, critical, theoretical—around which and upon which such an assumption is based, and to think carefully and capaciously about these beautiful pedagogues, and particularly these sublime pedagogues, that haunt not just The Prelude but Romanticism and sublime theory more generally.
Kant's Lectures on Pedagogy is lesser-known example of a Romantic-era text that puts education in direct conversation with aesthetics, and, while this text is relatively obscure even in Kant's oeuvre, it does also help to crystallize the ways in which the "practice" (441) of pedagogy is constitutively aesthetic in Kant's more influential work, the critical philosophy in particular. This text's opening claim is haunting in its allure to simplicity and its provocation of complexity: "The human being is the only creature that must [and presumably can] be educated" (437). Its complexity becomes plain, however, when Kant offers an example that is urgent (as Ferguson argues is often the case with Kant's examples) and all the more so for also being named a sole exception. This is the example and exception of song birds. According to Kant, no animal "learns anything . . . except birds, in their singing. This they are taught . . . just like in a school" (438; my emphasis) by their parents. And so as with the nightingale and the lark it is also with the human being: what we take most for granted, what would seem constitutive of our understanding of being itself—that a bird can sing the "self same song" as its forebears, or that a human being is in fact born human—turn out to be learned practices the apprehension of which require (proper) education. For, according to Kant, if you switch nightingales and larks at birth, you will get night birds who sing the morning's song and morning birds who sing the night's song. It is the same with human beings: "The human being can only become human through education. He is nothing except what education makes out of him" (439).
The most notable site of struggle in this text occurs around the concept of training. Kant defines training as the precondition of the more complex work of instruction. Training is defined as "the discipline that merely prevents errors" and the latter as guidance in the "exercise of that which one has learned" (446). Put another way, "Training is . . . merely negative . . . the action by means of which man's tendency to savagery is taken away. Instruction . . . is the positive part of education" (438; my emphasis). Likewise, training is associated with the disciplinary and mechanical, whereas instruction is associated with imagination and freedom: "the child must always feel its freedom; in such a way, however, that it not hinder the freedom of others. Therefore it must find resistance. . . . In breaking their self-will, nothing is more harmful than a vexatious, slavish discipline" (455).
And yet, training and its corollaries, discipline and restraint, are by no means "mere" in the way that Kant at first suggests. As he writes further on, "Education . . . must not merely be mechanical but must be based on principles. But neither must education be merely through rational argument, rather it must still be mechanical in a certain way" (445; my emphasis). It becomes clear that the balance between mechanical and dynamic education, and so the place of training, turns out to be critical and constitutive, as well as difficult to decide and to reach. As Kant himself admits in spite of his various and overlapping admonitions about the matter, "One of the biggest problems of education is how one can unite submission under lawful constraint with the capacity to use one's freedom. For constraint is necessary. How do I cultivate freedom under constraint?" (447; my emphasis).
This question—how do I cultivate freedom under constraint?—crystallizes the centrality of the problem of education to Kant's larger critical project and the centrality of aesthetics, specifically the sublime, to education. Intentionality aside, Kant answers this question most poignantly by demonstrating his desire and yet his inability to maintain his theory of educational training as the precondition for instruction. The work of mechanical repetition that Kant associates with training is supposed to lay the groundwork for the more complex intellectual work of moral instruction. However, the sequencing that would privilege dynamic instruction over mechanical training is undermined in Lectures on Pedagogy. In fact, the concept of training permeates Kant's theory of moral education to such an extent that his attempt to enforce a hierarchical sequence between training and instruction collapses.
For example, "Strength, skillfulness, agility, and secureness" (457), as Kant describes them, are outcomes of early and persistent exposure to the mechanics of physical repetition training. Consider, for example, the following particularly sublime example of the effects of good physical training in education, paying specific attention to the ways that physical training is constitutive rather than preconditional of education :
one should always be able to walk on narrow footpaths, on steep heights where one faces an abyss, or on a shaky support. If a human being cannot do these things, he is not completely what he could be . . . It is very admirable when one reads how the Swiss already accustom themselves from youth to walk in the mountains, and how much skill they develop in this respect, so that they can walk on the narrowest footpaths with complete confidence and jump over chasms . . . But most people are afraid of an imaginary fall, and this fear as it were paralyzes their limbs, so that for them such a walk then involves danger. This fear normally increases with age, and one finds that it is particularly common among men who work a lot with their head. (457)
This passage exemplifies the ways in which, for Kant, there is something essentially physical not only about training but also about education generally, by which I mean the end of education, which is moral education. Only an education which includes the practice of a disciplined repetitive activity of a specifically physical and rigorous—even risky—nature can produce a fully self-realized human being, a being who is "completely what he could be"—this effect of self realization being one that no amount of mental training can produce on its own and which it might even undermine, given that the frailty described above is noted as "common among men who work a lot with their head."
This entanglement of mechanical training and dynamic instruction in Kant's model of education becomes clearer again when we contemplate that, for Kant, not just training but all education is coercive. The question of how to cultivate freedom under constraint in the pedagogical setting is all the more complex taking into consideration this axiom. As he states, "The first stage in the pupil's development is that in which he must show obsequiousness and passive obedience; in the other he is allowed to make use of reflection and of his freedom, though under laws. In the first there is a mechanical, in the other a moral coercion" (446). Here the pedagogical setting seems more sublime than ever. We might map mechanical coercion onto the physical training that he describes above. By learning through repetition that one can "walk on narrow footpaths, on steep heights where one faces an abyss, or on a shaky support," one learns the discipline of overcoming one's fears of physical harm, which is borne out in the claim that those who do not get this type of training are in more "danger" of falling into chasms and abysses than those who do. To map this educational theory onto the Kantian sublime, one might say that physical training produces a fully-realized human being who can experience the sublime—an experience of virtual terror with the requisite distance from actual harm that constitutes the sublime. The lack of such training produces beings who can merely experience fear, and, likely, injury or death. Kant's theory imagines an ideal in which the student experiences moral instruction as sublime, so that her constraints are both felt and transcended, but actually his pedagogical theory demonstrates that both are illusions bent on—and produced by—training. Coercive to the core, education is, from this perspective, always ultimately achieved through force of illusion, a force that appears to be, and in some ways is, sublime. This notion of illusion and/as force in the pedagogical context is central to Deborah Elise White's reading of Derrida's meditations on the "sublime" landscape of Cornell University in her contribution to this issue, which she then uses as a means to think rigorously not only on Kant's sublime and Derrida's reformed Kant, but also to theorize a Derridian sublime that precisely opens itself to the terrors the Kantian sublime tries to contain, specifically with regard to the university, which, as White argues, "can only be adequate to its inadequation to the philosophical idea of reason that it supposedly embodies" (par 8).
Taking into consideration this issue's focal points of Romanticism, education, and the sublime, and with the hope of thinking carefully about what these terms can mean together today, I can think of no better theory of pedagogy to introduce at this juncture than that of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who has thought widely about humanities-based training using Romantic-era texts as principal theoretical and literary tools. And while some contributors take up Spivak's work explicitly—two examples are Forest Pyle's meditations on being Spivak's student and Paul Hamilton's attentiveness to Spivak's work on the subaltern as one of numerous examples of symptoms of various critical investments that precede and thus shape sublime theory and criticism of the twentieth century—and some do not, I draw her work on pedagogy to attention because it has been critical to my interest and inspiration throughout this project and so has done much to shape it. A central stake in Spivak's pedagogical work is to perform readings of Romantic poetry and philosophy in order to develop a theory of imagination, which she approaches first by reading Kant on the sublime and then linking her interpretation of the Kantian faculty of imagination to British Romantic poetry: "Romanticism was a strike for the robust imagination—for me, it is summarized in Shelley's remark . . . that 'we want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know.' It is the ability to imagine the other side as another human being, rather than simply an enemy . . . that is the greatest gift of romanticism" (100-101). Imagination is linked, in Spivak's work, to pedagogy —her argument is that what is important today is a very specific form of training linked explicitly and solely to the humanities. Such training entails "a preparation for the eruption of the ethical," which in turn entails a continuous "interruption of the epistemological" (83). This model of pedagogy Spivak defines as "cultural instruction in the exercise of the imagination" (94).
To understand more fully what is meant by the "interruption of the epistemological," it will be useful to turn to Spivak on Kant. Spivak describes the structure of the Kantian sublime in the following way: "the thing is too big for me to grasp; I am scared; Reason kicks in by the mind's immune system and shows me, by implication, that the big thing is mindless, 'stupid' in the sense in which a stone is stupid, or the body is. I call the big mindless thing 'sublime'" (94). Spivak's focus is on the ways in which the cognitive faculties interact and affect one another in the context of the Kantian sublime. What is noteworthy here is that she takes the efforts of the Imagination as her over-arching model rather than prioritizing the culminating work of reason: Imagination's encounter with radical alterity is to represent the encounter but without objective concepts, work that Spivak calls figuration and which she associates strongly with (Romantic) literature, particularly poetry. It is Imagination's greatest lesson, for Spivak, that it fails to turn the sublime object it encounters into an object, or body, of knowledge. Furthermore, she does not understand the work of reason finally to overcome or master, but more to extend or complement, that of Imagination. In this instance, the "big . . . mindless . . . thing" that is the sublime remains oblique to the "calculative" objectifications of which reason is capable. It apprehends, but cannot grasp, the radical alterity of the sublime object, and it acknowledges without overcoming the work of figuration of the Imagination. The result is a capacity for the viewing subject to resonate with, but not to know, the sublime other, which, as Deborah Elise White reminds us, is in keeping with Kant's own sense of the effect of Imagination's failure, (sublime) vibration. "It is," writes Spivak, "an imaginative exercise in experiencing the impossible—stepping into the space of the other" (94)—an exercise Anne McCarthy's essay takes quite seriously and models finely. McCarthy theorizes the ways in which Coleridge's Christabel produces encounters with that thing that represents not only supreme failure, particularly where education is concerned, but also a sense of the supremely alien: stupidity.
Spivak's resonant faculties figure the Kantian sublime as a radical pedagogical model, a model of apprehension that is also and at once an act of letting go—of knowledge, of objectification, of mastery—a model that grasps for, but does not grasp, that produces acts neither of desperation nor indifference but rather acts of responsibility. Thus it is imaginative apprehension, as opposed to the possession of knowledge, which constitutes responsibility and the political work it entails. "When we confine our idea of the political to cognitive control alone," she argues, "it closes off response altogether. We end up talking to ourselves, or to our clones abroad" (87). Thus, to respond is to resonate with rather than to know. In turn, this imaginative practice will pre-figure change—it will not only produce a relation to the other that is based in the newly-defined and ever-evolving present but will make it possible for the present to reconfigure. Resonance is a means to conceptualize the present through the dynamic of rhythm rather than the problematic of knowledge.
Teaching us to think education itself with a critical imagination that she forms by modeling this very critical imagination in her readings of Kant, Spivak's pedagogy can perhaps best be apprehended through what I perceive as the adroit but also monumentally graceful claim that proper pedagogy consists in "the uncoercive rearrangement of desires" (81). With this formulation Spivak performs the critical work that she has also theorized widely in her work, reading Kant with integrity at the same time that she decouples him from historical specificity and uses her reformation of him as a means for theorizing how to think and act in the present. Out of the necessary coercion of the pedagogical setting that we can so clearly read as sublime in Kant's Lectures on Pedagogy now comes, through Spivak's reading of Kant, precisely an uncoercive pedagogy, one that not only transcends the sublime by detranscendentalizing Reason but also theorizes a detranscendentalized sublime. While its substance necessarily and rightly exceeds a single concept, it can still be said that it is Spivak's pedagogical theory, in particular what we might call this immanent pedagogical sublime, which inspired me to imagine and create the occasion of this issue. And in my estimation, each contributor has taken up this reformative work in ways that are both individually and synthetically inspirational of the simultaneously abstract and practical idealism that adheres in a pedagogy whose goal is the uncoercive rearrangement of desires.
II. The Case of the Horse
The very important work of contextualization, synthesis, and evaluation is work that one has come to expect in an introduction. Ian Balfour's Afterword to this issue, entitled "Afterthoughts on the Sublime & Education; Or, Teachable Moments?" accomplishes this work with all of the characteristic erudition, insight, and flair that defines his thought and writing. To complement Balfour's contribution to this issue, I have chosen to use the space of the Introduction as one in which to offer a sense of my inspiration for this issue, which I hope I have begun to lay out above, and also to make a contribution to it, which I hope will take shape in what remains.
Balfour argues that it is the centrality of the example in sublime discourse that enables that discourse to manifest with the complexity that it does within the broad outlines of what constitutes it. For Kant, as we saw with the exceptional case of song birds in his pedagogical theory, examples are critical and urgent in the same way that Balfour traces them in sublime discourse more generally. It is the example, too, that so often provides a pedagogical bridge between present-day students of Romanticism and the sublime of, say, P.B. Shelley, as Pyle's essay deftly performs and theorizes. Furthermore, writes Balfour, it is "[i]n Kant, perhaps more than in any other thinker, [that] we witness the unlikely combination of the sublime and education, and their endless provocations." For Wordsworth too, I would suggest, the example works in this way; for what is the sublime of The Prelude if not a collection of examples whose critical legacy, taken together, intimates a shared sense of a Romantic sublime—the boat-stealing episode, the cliff-side ravens' nest-stealing episode, the ice-skating episode, the boy of Winander episode, and so on—each of which, in turn, in their shared obsessions with stealth, communion, and vertiginousness, suggest a haunted and haunting pedagogy at work that is in line with Kant's "training" and Spivak's "practice" and "preparation."
In the spirit of Kant, whose song birds haunt my sense of what a sublime pedagogy might be; and too, in the spirit of Wordsworth, whose owls, now silent in the face of the Boy's calls, now responsive, and in anticipation of whose "quivering peals, / And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud / Redoubled and redoubled" (1805 V.401-403) is also the haunt of my sense of what a sublime pedagogy might be, I shall now offer an example in the mode of a critical response that takes its inspiration precisely from the uncertainty that produces readers out of us that hang from the sky rather than stand on the ground.
This example concerns what might seem at first to be an unlikely case, though at minimum it is no more or less strange than Kant's song birds: it is the case of the horse. For their purpose Kant's birds are a well-chosen example. Recalling the "self same song" of Keats's nightingale, song birds are familiar insofar as they have long been understood to be humanlike: they are agents of the fundamentally aesthetic work of producing song and the fundamentally human act of teaching those songs to future generations of birds, parent to child. Structurally, Kant's birds are strikingly brief—they comes and go in a flash—which, if it were thought in those terms, would be its sublimity, a specifically Kantian sublimity of pedagogical coercion. Within this context, it is really no surprise, and even makes perfect sense, that it would be song birds, and of the specific pace in which they are rendered, that serve as the sole exception to the otherwise solely human register of Kant's pedagogical theory. As a critical response I hope my horse example can appear equally well chosen, even as it attempts to harness the confoundedness of boundary between human and animal that the "echoes" "redoubled and redoubled" along the cliffs of Winander perhaps more than the certainty of Kant's simile. Finally, I hope that my work with the example of the horse suggest that a stretched example—one that moves slowly, one that does not appear and disappear in the flash of thought but remains meditatively present, as does Keats's nightingale over the eight stanzas of the ode—might be asymmetrically instructive, might model the practice of a Kantian-inspired pedagogy with a difference.
First to context. Horses haunt literature, criticism, and philosophy as birds do, and like birds horses have been understood in those contexts to be a means for theorizing humanity and inhumanity and for theorizing the limits and possibilities of education. Calling only a few examples to mind, there is the prominent use of the exemplars of horsemanship and the horse in the opening paragraphs of Sir Philip Sidneyâ€™s Defence of Poesy (1580 / 1595), in which Sidney establishes a tone for his work to come by turning a pedagogical standard of Scholasticism on its head through his whimsical and witty ‘recollection’ of a teacher who made the case that “Skill of government was but a pedenteria in comparison” to good horsemanship and that horses are “peerless . . . the beast of most beauty, faithfulness, courage, and such more, that, if I had not been a piece of a logician before I came to him, I think he would have persuaded me to have wished myself a horse” (95); Edmund Burke's illustration of the distinction between what is and what is not sublime in the Enquiry through the distinction he draws between the horse in The book of Job that "swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage" (60) and an ordinary work horse; Freud's seminal work on the case of a young child's phobia of horses—seemingly precipitated by his witnessing the collapse and death of a carriage horse in the street—as a springboard for the Oedipus Complex ("Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy," 1909); Deleuze and Guattari's "becoming horse" in A Thousand Plateaus (1980 / trans. 1988), in which they theorize affective, as opposed to representational, thinking through revisionary work on Freud's case study of this child and his equinophobia; the association of Nietzsche's mental collapse with his profound sense of identification with and love for a badly abused horse on the streets of Turin; and Kant's own suggestion that the horse comes closer than most other non-human entities to becoming—or at least having the potential to become—an object of respect (Critique of Practical Reason, 1788). There is the anguished and haunting opening scene of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866), in which Raskolnikov dreams of an old working horse being badly beaten on the streets and whose death disturbs and confounds his assailant; and another haunting and rending scene in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) in which the Durbyfield family's only horse, Prince, accidentally wanders to the wrong side of the road in the middle of the night on the way to market with his sleepy child guides and is impaled by a swiftly moving mail cart, so that Tess and her small brother must watch him bleed to death by the light of dawn.
Robert J. Griffin has recently drawn attention to an episode of The Prelude he calls "Wordsworth's horse" that was written in 1804 but remained in manuscript (MS. W). This episode is admittedly nowhere near the center of Wordsworth studies, but as he shows it has been noticed by Mary Jacobus and Geoffrey Hartman, both of whom are among the most influential readers of Wordsworth of our time and whose work has both formed and transformed the field of Romanticism itself. With the sparkle of such eminent attention as inspiration, Griffin works creatively and convincingly with the "horse" episode, showing the ways the passage is emblematic of the Wordsworths that develop out of Hartman's humanism and Jacobus's antihumanism respectively, and showing the episode's logical relation to the passage that eventually replaced it.
"Wordsworth's horse," as Griffin has so beautifully made visible through his work, does ultimately disappear from the poem, but yet there are others that remain. In fact, images of horses are entwined in central episodes of the published poem in all of its three major versions. This is most notably true in the "spots of time" episodes. In the first, there is the "pair of horsemen" (1799 I.302), the younger of whom, our poetic speaker, becomes frightened at being separated from his adult guide, which causes him to dismount and lead his horse inadvertently into a place that would haunt him through the course of his life; and, in the second episode, the boy's "impatient sight / Of those three horses" (1799, I.334-335) that he anticipated coming at any moment round the bend to bear him and his brothers home from school for Christmas, in which his "feverish" (332) impatience of sight for those animals—"I watched / With eyes intensely straining" (346-347)—would, again, haunt him throughout his life. Also there is that joyful episode of Book II of The Prelude in which our speaker recalls himself and his schoolmates compulsorily blowing the lion's share of their precious half-year allowances as often as possible to rent horses for a weekend, that they might once again "feel the motion of the galloping steed" (1805, II.103): "Lighted by gleams of moonlight from the sea / We beat with thundering hoofs the level sand (II.136-137).
Now to impressions. Imagine that the poetic image meets the photographic still. Terms of art: Tact. Suppleness. Impulsion. Lightness. Suspension. Collection. The spectacle: Brilliance. Gentleness. Finesse. Austerity. Serenity. Grace. Goals of practitioners: Conversation. Understanding. Mental and Physical Enjoyment. Work. Accomplishment. Rhythm.
This is a composite image of the equine sport dressage. With dressage, there are moments one can more easily catch with still photography than with the eye, though the eye becomes increasingly able to see them if it trains itself to do so - moments of suspension suspended in time. When the athletic power of the horse is fully in use and fully controlled, we call that power suspension, which is achieved through the combination of suppleness, impulsion, and collection. At such times, and in its engagement of various types of movements, the horse may be seen to be entirely off the ground, balanced in the air, a testament to the grace of highly disciplined power. I have in mind what is called the collected trot, which is ubiquitous to the sport, a rudiment learned at the earliest phase of training but which continues to be constitutive to training up through the very highest levels of competition and performance. Without the collected trot, you've got nothing in dressage. And yet, for all of its ordinariness within the discipline of the sport, in every single movement forward of this two-beat rhythm there is a magnificent and controlled suspension in the air when all four of the horse's legs are off the ground, in flight. Out of this early control will come some of the most marvelous feats of the sport—from the grandness in movement of the extended trot, in which the horse unleashes its power in the two-beat rhythm of the trot, covering vast space without changing tempo, to the controlled precision of the piaffe, in which it appears as though the horse dances in place, still in the same two-beat rhythm, still in the same tempo. This suspension at the heart of dressage's tempo produces a movement that is equally composed of halts and flights rather than purely a forward-moving sequence. Efforts of training, by which I mean of continuous straining, might enable the eye to see it. Feeling it helps. Photographs help. As to the rider, it may seem (and is also supposed to seem) to an untutored eye that the rider is merely along for the ride, sitting effortlessly atop the horse during these moments of suspension and flight, but in fact over time one learns to see that in fact she is in constant and complex conversation with the horse. She is engaged with her heels, calves, thighs, buttocks, back, and hands in order that they together may accomplish such lightness as to hover above the earth together, and she is also absorbing the unbelievable physical power and motion of the horse into her own frame, which takes extraordinary physical strength.
Appropriately, the term "dressage" can be translated from French to mean, quite simply, "training." As master dressage trainer Nuno Oliveira (1925-1989) has encouraged us to do, we can think of dressage as fundamentally and constitutively pedagogical. Oliveira has written that dressage becomes art when perfect understanding between the rider and horse is reached. This level of understanding comes through pedagogical conversation that is initiated and controlled by the rider—"To practice equestrian art is to establish a conversation on a higher level with the horse; a dialogue of courtesy and finesse" (Oliveira 18), and, in response, the horse "will reply to the conversation . . . with his pedagogue" (19)—and which culminates in the capacity for both rider and horse to reach their full athletic potential. At the highest levels of the sport, the horse is able to command its own body at will and in human communion to do that which it could already do, but previously only inadvertently and by chance in moments of pure passion while loose in the field. It is a remarkable thing to witness, and something, moreover, that as a practitioner I feel certain the horses understand in these terms also. By this I mean that the dressage horse is precisely an uncoerced partner in a highly physically and mentally demanding sport that demands years and years of rigorous training and that simply would not be mastered without consensus between partners that such training is desirable, pleasurable, even, as time goes on, increasingly formative of who they respectively take themselves and each other to be.
Perhaps it is true that at the most rudimentary level the conversation that erupts between a horse and rider endeavoring to practice the art and sport of dressage is begun by the rider, as Oliveira assumes is the case. Even so, it is a conversation that is held over time only if there is mutual consent. A horse that becomes resistant to a given rider is as ruinous to the partnership as a rider who becomes resistant to a horse. Furthermore, it is at least as often the case that the horse is more experienced than the rider than that the rider is more experienced than the horse. In fact, if a horse reaches advanced levels of the sport, once that horse's competitive career comes to an end it will often be the case that that horse becomes a training horse—a horse that precisely teaches riders how to ride by being able to discern out of what will be broken and rough conversation what, nevertheless, a rider is trying to ask the horse to do. In such cases, though it might not be visibly obvious, particularly to an untrained eye, the horse is a highly skilled pedagogue engaging a human pupil. This fact puts into serious question any sense that it is the human being who is the pedagogue on the scene "guiding" the horse through the rigors of training. Such skill reminds me of an example Spivak once gave, in which she asks us to think about the difference between knowing on the one hand and teaching and learning on the other by asking us to think about the difference between describing the rules of a card game well and teaching someone how to play the card game well; between knowing how to play the card game well and playing to lose in order to teach. ("Trajectory of the Subaltern") In this way, the dressage horse is an example of a non-human pedagogue to be read alongside Kant's birds and perhaps to question and ultimately counter his larger sense that pedagogy is an enterprise that is engaged exclusively by and on the behalf of human being.
Dressage is broken up into ten major levels beginning with "Training Level" and culminating in Olympic-level Grand Prix level. Each major level is broken up into four "tests" that practitioners must master before moving (incrementally) forward. As such, dressage the sport is composed of a rigorous and regimented series of rules and regulations so precise and yet so vast that they are reminiscent of Longinus's Peri Hypsous. Written in the guise of a pedagogical scenario, Longinus offers his treatise in the hopes that it will help to train his student in the art of the sublime. And yet, as we come to find, Longinus' treatise is no simple guidebook. In fact, what it has to teach has something to do precisely with the expectation of what is teachable through method, or science. I would suggest that dressage teaches us something similar. The dressage partnership is part human, part animal; I would suggest that the entanglement of the two is pervasive and constitutive. On the one hand, the goal of the sport is to bring the natural power and grace of the horse under disciplined control, which can perhaps be said of most athletes in most sports. On the other, the goal is to bring artfulness to the precipice of understanding—here recall the uncertainty with which one is always faced with the collected trot: is the horse suspended in motion, or is it moving forward?—and then beyond it. At its zenith dressage is an art rather than a sport, recalling Kant in the Critique of Judgment: "There is no science of the beautiful [das Schöne], but only critique, and there is no fine [schön] science, but only fine art" (Critique of the Power of Judgement 184). And further, as Oliveira has written, this art is, as he terms it, "fugitive," inaccessible beyond the occasion of its moment.
In this way I would suggest that the art of dressage exemplifies very powerfully what Spivak considers to be Imagination's greatest lesson, which is that it fails to turn the sublime object it encounters into a body of knowledge. The pedagogical sublime is a sublime that precisely produces resonance rather than knowledge, practice rather than mastery, and that through rigorous and open-ended training that cannot be reduced either merely to "teaching" or "learning" but is also at key moments one, the other, and both. The result of the horse-rider partnership is to resonate with, but not to know, the sublime other. This encounter of horse and rider, which prioritizes neither as pedagogue nor pupil, which demands conversation—that is to say resonance—in on-going training, is an incarnation of what I take to be Spivak's ethics. It opens its practitioners, and its spectators, up to the possibility of "an imaginative exercise in experiencing the impossible—stepping into the space of the other" ("Terror" 94).
And so now to return to Wordsworth's horses. Again, while the fact of their presence in the passages has not been an influential preoccupation, the horses of the "spots of time" episodes are nevertheless present in some of the most influential passages of Wordsworth's poetry. Here at more length is the second episode:
The day before the holidays began,
Feverish, and tired, and restless, I went forth
Into the fields, impatient for the sight
Of those three horses which should bear us home,
My brothers and myself. There was a crag,
An eminence, which from the meeting-point
Of two highways ascending overlooked
At least a long half-mile of those two roads,
By each of which the expected steeds might come -
The choice uncertain. Thither I repaired
Up to the highest summit. T'was a day
Stormy, and rough, and wild, and on the grass
I sate half sheltered by a naked wall.
Upon my right hand was a single sheep,
A whistling hawthorn on my left, and there,
Those two companions at my side, I watched
With eyes intensely straining, as the mist
Gave intermitting prospects of the wood
And plain beneath. (1799, I.330-3439)
The question of whether time in this passage is sublime or traumatic is one that the work of Hartman and Jacobus together forcefully put to us. What I will say on this occasion is only that this passage puts time, ideas of the sublime, and education into relation, and the lesson that is the outcome of that entanglement is one precipitated by the straining to see horses. The boy's straining takes the form of searching the landscape for what he expects at every moment to see: the three horses coming to bear him and his brothers home. This scene, one numerously repeated in The Prelude, and which helps to shape the poem, is a scene of education. Often understood as lessons on the tyranny of the eye, in such episodes the eye looks with an unguarded expectation for what it will see, and in this particular case also when it will see, only to be chastised and disappointed, and eventually admonished by the at once gentle and at once stern pedagogues (of) nature, and then finally also rewarded for being a good student once that tyranny is understood and mediated if not expelled.
Now finally, I wish to conjure lessons of my own most memorable training, in which my teacher often modeled for me a practice of thinking characterized by a flexibility of imagination that I perceived both then and now would haunt me all my life, both because I knew then and know still that it, and he, is inimitable, and because I shall always strive to achieve that simile with a difference that figures, or bears a trace of, this training. The result of this present conjuring draws into clear relief, too, the fact that, as in The Prelude itself, the figure of the trainer, the pedagogue, the guide, is almost entirely spectral, both here, in the example I have offered, despite or perhaps because of the haunting every-day memories of a triad of coaches speaking to me almost constantly from the side as I trained over fifteen years in that sport, or of the equally haunting memories of reading The Prelude with my intellectual teacher over seven years of graduate training. This spectral figure of the teacher, not just here but throughout the pages of this issue, is a haunting reminder of the remarkable claim that Kant makes near the conclusion of the first Critique, which is that philosophy can never be learned. He writes, "We cannot learn philosophy—it does not exist; if it does, where is it, who possesses it, and how shall we know it?" We can only learn to philosophize" (Critique of Pure Reason 507). Derrida for one responds by arguing that "philosophy eludes teaching, while philosophizing requires it, requires endlessly and only teaching" (60). And as Derrida goes on to say, we have yet to take the measure of "the institutional consequences from this . . . double bind that knots itself around the sublime body of the teacher of philosophizing, of his evident and unavoidable absence. For in his very withdrawal, he remains unavoidable" (Derrida 62; emphasis mine). Perhaps, ultimately, and the pages of this issue will be suggestive in this regard through figurations both of presence, absence, and ghostliness, it is at the sublime body of the teacher where the sublime and education cross most consequentially.
And so I conclude with a meditation inspired by the haunt of my sublime pedagogue. Consider the possibilities that manifest when we subject the spot of time passage above to the artful rearrangements that ensue from a thought experiment, when, for example, we substitute "I watched / With eyes intensely straining" to "I watched / With eyes intensely training"? Taking into consideration this essay's meditation on training, and in line with a possible Wordsworth intimated by the very conversations between education and the sublime that this issue has taken it as its goal to generate, I would suggest that the emergent model is one of looking to learn, as opposed to learning to look, and that the effect is the difference between coercive and uncoercive education, which, in this case, would also be to say the effect of a pedagogical sublime. It is a critical spirit bent on theorizing a sublimely uncoercive pedagogy that unifies, however variously, the essays collected in this volume.
I wish to express my gratitude to the numerous individuals who have helped me with the work of this special issue. First and foremost, I thank the contributors; it has been a profound honor and privilege to work with each of them over the two years it has taken to complete this issue. Thanks to Laura Mandel, who helped to inspire this project, and to Steve Jones, who has been a kind and supportive general editor at Praxis. Thanks also to Stephen M. Barber, Alexandra Cook, and Bohun B. Kinloch III for their generous attention to this work as readers and critical interlocutors. Thanks finally to Mary Cappello, who invited me to give this essay as a public lecture in the University of Rhode Island Faculty Colloquium series in spring 2010, where I received excellent support, feedback, and suggestions. I would like to dedicate this issue to those who have trained me: the dressage and three-day eventing coaches of my past as a competitive rider—Karen Ball, David Collins, and Eike von Veltheim—and my academic mentors, Julie A. Carlson, Jeffrey N. Cox, and Alan Liu.
1. I would like to extend my gratitude to the students of my fall 2008 graduate seminar Romantic Landscape at the University of Rhode Island for discussions about the intersections of the Romantic sublime and pedagogy that were not only a great pleasure but were also useful to my work here: Rebekah Greene, Rosaleen Greene-Smith, Benjamin Hagen, Eva Jones, Sarah Maitland, Sara Murphy, and Maximilian Orsini.
2. I refer most specifically to the drowned man episode of The Prelude, which has long been associated with the schoolmaster James Jackson, who taught at the neighboring village of Sawrey, and who was drowned on June 18, 1779 while bathing in Esthwaite Lake.
3. Lectures on Pedagogy is an artifact produced over the course of a decade (1776-1787) during which Kant taught a required course on practical pedagogy as a member of the philosophy faculty at the University of Königsberg. It is now collected in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant under Anthropology, History, and Education (Eds. Günter Zöller and Robert B. Louden. Trans. Robert B. Louden. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007). As the translator explains in an introductory note, Kant had offered his many teaching notes for this class to his younger colleague, Friedrich Theodor Rink, who first published them, and whose edition (much as it is impossible to know where Kant's agency might end and Rink's begins) has largely determined all future editions of the piece, including this most recent one.
4. As she makes clear here and elsewhere, Spivak's conception of imagination is diametrically opposed to sympathetic identification, in which imaginative work is intent to produce affinity and correspondence between the imagining self and its other(s) by learning to read the other as "like" the self, which causes, inadvertently or otherwise, an occlusion or negation of the unknown aspects of the other which had heretofore posed severe epistemological anxiety, contempt, indifference, or a combination of those responses. For an alternative, Spivak turns to the poetry of Wordsworth, particularly Lyrical Ballads, which she sees as modeling a "risky othering of the self" (In Other Asias 267) that precisely avoids sentimentality.
5. For critical insight on the concept of example in literary criticism more generally, see Ian Balfour's essay entitled "The Gift of Example: Derrida and the Origins of the Eighteenth Century" (Eighteenth Century Studies, 40.3 2007, pp. 467-472).
6. Paul de Man, "Time and History in Wordsworth" page 79, from Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers. Ed. E. S. Burt, Kevin Newmark, and Andrzej Warminski. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.
7. Geoffrey Shepherd suggests in an editorial note that "homo" and "equus" were familiar examples used to embellish the more abstract concepts of "A" and "B" in Scholastic argumentation. His note reads as follows: "Cp. the similar wish expressed by one of Crato's pupils in logic in De disciplina scholarium, PL 64, col. 1230 (a favourite medieval text long ascribed to Boethius but probably of 13th c. composition). Homo and equus were used as fixed terms in the syllogisms of medieval logic" (144-145).
8. I would like to thank Travis D. Williams for an illuminating discussion over this example as well as for bringing it to my attention when I offered this essay as a public lecture at the University of Rhode Island Faculty Colloquium Series in February 2010.
One evening, walking in the public way,
A peasant of the valley where I dwelt
Being my chance companion, he stopped short
And pointed to an object full in view
At a small distance. 'Twas a horse, that stood
Alone upon a little breast of ground
With a clear silver moonlight sky behind.
With one leg from the ground the creature stood,
Insensible and still; breath, motion gone,
Mane, ears, and tail, as lifeless as the trunk
That had no stir of breath. We paused awhile
In pleasure of the sight, and left him there,
With all his functions silently sealed up,
Like an amphibious work of Nature's hand,
A borderer dwelling betwixt life and death,
A living statue or a statued life. (draft material MS. W, pg. 498 Norton Critical Edition of The Prelude)
10. Classical dressage is an Olympic sport the art of which has been practiced for hundreds of years and some movements of which can be traced to ancient equine pedagogy largely bent on war training, specifically the treatise On Horsemanship (350 B.C.) by Xenophon, in which he argued that horses must not be used as tools and must be loved as partners rather than forced to obey through constraint. Dressage reached the artistic zenith that still determines the way we practice the sport today during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries at various courts of Western Europe, including those of Maria Teresa and of Louis XIV through Louis the XVI at Versailles.
11. The following Grand Prix musical freestyle performance of the horse/rider pair Moorland Totilas and Edward Gal at a Dutch competition in 2009 is a brilliant example not only of the art and sport of dressage generally but of the collected trot in particular: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvUDAlsLo20
13. There are two formal qualities of Kant's example worth reflecting upon as one reflects on the comparison of the case of the horse I offer here with Kant's birds. The first, which I have explored above, is exclusivity. Kant's birds are claimed to be a sole exception and so bear the weight of that claim. The second is the almost violent brevity of Kant's bird example, to which I hope to have drawn attention through the elaborate quality of the horse example in relation to it.
14. Oliveira writes, "once the horse is dead, nothing, not even films, can reproduce the sensation felt when the horse is seen in movement. . . . After the horse is no more, only those who have admired him keep a remembrance of his quality in their hearts, which is gradually effaced by Time, and others who have not seen him know him only by romanticized tales, recounted, and sometimes embroidered, by those who have truly loved him" (118).
15. The translation of this passage changes slightly from one edition to another. In the Cambridge edition by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (1999), it reads, "one cannot learn any philosophy; for where is it, who has possession of it, and by what can it be recognized? One can only learn to philosophize" (695). In the Doubleday edition edited by F. Max Muiller (1966), it reads, "Of all the sciences of reason (a priori), therefore, mathematics alone can be learnt, but philosophy (unless it be historically) never; with regard to reason we can at most learn to philosophize"(533).
16. David Clark has been formative in my thinking on the role of the teacher in relation to the key concepts of this issue, the sublime and education; for that and for all of his wisdom and erudition from which I have had opportunity to benefit since I met him and in his written work long before that, I offer thanks.
17. I refer here to Alan Liu, my dissertation advisor, whose recent book Local Transcendence: Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database (2008) gives numerous examples of a strategy of thought experimentation that permeates his writings and his pedagogy. I think with especial fondness of a graduate seminar that Alan taught in the winter of 2000 entitled The Culture of Information, in which he encouraged all of us to make presentations as thought experiments and which produced the most rigorous and yet playful interdisciplinary work in which I have ever had the pleasure to take part and from which I learned what type of teacher I myself aspire to be.
Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
Derrida, Jacques. Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy II. Trans. Jan Plug. Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2004.
Griffin, Robert J. "Wordsworth's Horse." The Wordsworthian Enlightenment: Romantic Poetry and the Ecology of Reading. Essays in Honor of Geoffrey Hartman. Ed. Helen Regueiro Elam and Frances Ferguson. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. 129-145.
Kant, Immanuel. Lectures on Pedagogy. (1776-1787 / 1803). Anthropology, History, and Education. Ed. Gunter Zoller and Robert B. Louden. Trans. Mary Gregor, Paul Guyer, Robert B. Louden, Holly Wilson, Allen W. Wood, Guter Zoller, and Arnulf Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
- - -. Critique of Pure Reason. Ed J. M. D. Meiklejohn. London: George Bell and Sons, 1887.
- - -. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Ed. Paul Guyer. Trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.
Oliveira, Nuno. Reflections on Equestrian Art. Trans. Phyllis Field. London: J.A. Allen, 1976.
Sidney, Philip, Sir. An Apology for Poetry or The Defence of Poesy. Edited by Geoffrey Shepherd. London: Nelson, 1965.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakrovorty. "Terror: A Speech Act After 9-11." Boundary 2 31.2 (2004): 81-111.
- - -. "The Subaltern and the Popular: The Trajectory of the Subaltern in My Work." Voices: A UCSB Series. Hosted by History of Art & Architecture and Film
Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara. 7 February 2008. YouTube. Web. 20 June 2009.
Wordsworth, William. The Prelude (1799, 1805). The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850. Ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill. New York: Norton, 1979.