Combination Therapy: Memes and Narration Health

Paulo Freire’s remarks in the fourth chapter of Pedagogy of the Oppressed (translated by Myra Bergman Ramos) about theories of cultural action are interesting starting points to think about “memes” [discursive carriers] and the processes of ideological adhesion. The remarks I have in mind turn on a situatedness (inside/outside) that perhaps needs to be refined. Freire writes:

The revolution is born as a social entity within the oppressor society; to the extent that it is cultural action, it cannot fail to correspond to the potentialities of the social entity in which it originated. Every entity develops (or is transformed) within itself, through the interplay of its contradictions. External conditioners, while necessary are effective only if they coincide with those potentialities. [Here there is a note to “See Mao Tse Tung op. cit.]

And so we find the 7th note of Chapter 3.

In a long conversation with Malraux, Mao Tse Tung declared “You know I’ve proclaimed for a long time: we must teach the masses clearly what we have received from them confusedly.” André Malraux, Anti-Memoirs (New York, 1968) pp. 361-362.

Friere later on in Chapter 3 writes

It is as transforming and creative beings that men, in their permanent relations with reality, produce not only material goods — tangible objects — but also social institutions, ideas, and concepts. [Note to Karel Kosik]

It is out of the encounter of praxis and the concrete that dialogical approaches emerge. The Malraux – Mao note is anchored at the end of the following sentence:

For the dialogical problem-solving teacher-student, the program content of education is neither a gift nor an imposition — bits of information to be deposited in the students — but rather the organized, systematized, and developed “representation” to individuals of the things about which they want to know more. [Reference to Note #7]

Representation here could be read as a product as well as a process. This is helping me locate the source of my discomfort with the opening of Chapter 2, i.e. the remarks on the narrative of teacher-student relations.

A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.

Reread from the perspective of the work of representation, I now realize it is not so much storytelling per se that is being faulted but a certain mode of narration. If there is such a thing as “narration sickness” might there not be narration health? Freire of course goes on to propose a prescription.

Narration health equivalent to interplay of readings? See Barthes S/Z on “character” being a product of combinations. Recombine with the notion of “meme”.

And so for day 1548

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