radical reflections

From: Jay Lemke (jaylemke@umich.edu)
Date: Sat Apr 10 2004 - 22:23:27 PDT

Probably a lot of people are already off to AERA in San Diego, as I will
soon be, and I'm looking forward to seeing many friends there ...

but I've just finished one of my periodic (at too long intervals!)
speed-reads through a couple months of xmca, and while there's too much
rich food for thought to gustate it all now ...

I did wonder if maybe the many reflections on reflexivity did not remain a
little too much in the light ... seeing it mainly as a means for the
generation of novelty, or depth of thoughtfulness, or occasionally
self-criticism ... taking the high road of meta-cognition as executive
functioning, improving the controlled efficiency of our intellectual
productivity ...

which does not seem, after all, very dialectical ... or more to my point,
not very t-r-o-u-b-l-i-n-g ...

What after all is the point of reflecting on what we are doing? not just to
do it better (which I think is a productivity-oriented function,
heart-warming to capital), but to do better ... to stop doing it altogether
and figure out something better to do. To understand better what the larger
implications of doing it at all might be, where we are functioning in
larger systems, why we might not want to be playing the part we are playing.

Reflexivity for me is part of the dialectical notion of praxis, of trying
to always push through the pain of seeing what we really don't want to see,
until we really see very differently, initially oppositely and then
"third-spatially" (fifth-dimensionally?), so that what we used to think and
how we used to see become impossible for us, an embarrassment even to remember.

Genuine reflexivity is very difficult and usually painful. It puts ego and
identity at risk. It is probably more often born of desperation than of
courage. It is the last resort of optimists, the blindspot of social engineers.

There is perhaps a different sense in which every entity and every process
is involved in reflection: the sense of Leibniz' mutually-mirroring monads.
Everything has meaning only insofar as we make sense of it in relation to
something else; everything we do is in tension with what else we might have
done. Every choice is a reflection on or among alternatives. Every activity
requires the negotiation of possibles. Even sleepwalkers at breakfast are
not back in bed, not skipping breakfast today, not consciously reflecting
on the nature of breakfast, just pouring, just swallowing. But this is the
inevitable internal reflexivity of the universe as seen from outside the
human action-scale, and as imagined by us in our analytical moments. It
does matter to action, whether we are thinking about it or not, but it only
defines the ground of possibility for critical reflection, for radical
reflexivity ... the moments when we can look through our own actions to
imagine ourselves in a different relationship to the wholes we are part of
than that defined by the actions we have been accustomed to thinking we
ought to take.


Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Email. JayLemke@UMich.edu
Website. www.umich.edu/~jaylemke

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