Just found this neat Prezi presentation on “Uncanny Digital Literacies” by Sian Bayne, from the ESRC seminar series on Literacy in the Digital University (University of Edinburgh, 16 Oct 2009).
I like the free-floating zoomieness of Bayne’s presentation, but with an ‘absent’ presenter, it is a little difficult to make the ideas and images cohere.
I found a draft of one of Bayne’s articles (in .pdf format) that might shed light on this presentation — “Uncanny spaces for higher education: teaching and learning in virtual worlds” (University of Strathclyde, 2008) — in which she explores how teaching via SecondLife and other virtual spaces can tap into a ‘pedagogy of uncertainty…as a way of working productively with the ‘strangeness’ and ‘uncanniness’ of contemporary academic – and digital – ways of being. The full article is definitely worth a read.
I think the quotation from Ronald Barnett’s book, A Will to Learn: Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty (Buckingham: Society for Research in Higher Education, 2007) is key. If I’m reading the presentation correctly, it suggests that the primary linkage between the ‘uncanny’ and pedagogy (a philosophy of teaching) is the use of new knowledge and new methods (e.g. digital technology in the classroom) to generate a defamiliarization of the habitual ways of thinking: “The student is perforce required to venture into new places, strange places, anxiety-provoking places. This is part of the point of higher education.”
DEFINITELY. This argument shares much with the thinking I’ve explored on my teaching website, Pedablogue, and particularly with an essay I wrote last year on “The Unlearning: Horror and Transformative Learning Theory”, published in The Jnl of Tranformative Works & Cultures last September. In that article, I discuss how horror fiction can provide an “activating event” that challenges a students assumptions…this is a little different than Bayne’s assertion that digital media taps into “intellectual uncertainty” to generate inquiry, but we sound a similar call to teachers to defamiliarize and challenge student habits, so that they might learn something new.
Of course, Freud’s theory of the uncanny is not entirely about “intellectual uncertainty”…indeed, one of his stated purposes in writing his article to begin with was to peer behind this idea — first launched in 1906 by Ernst Jentsch (“On the Psychology of the Uncanny” (.pdf)) — to explore how unconscious desire underpins an experience of the uncanny. And teaching “unconscious desire” can be a bit too slippery and mucky for the classroom. Teachers cannot be psychotherapists. Instead, teachers are in a position to raise consciousness: to help students understand how “certainty” is sometimes a ruse, and — with care — unveiling how desires that we think of as natural might actually be socially constructed, after all. And this, after all, is the impulse behind not only most teaching in the liberal arts, but most scholarship: to lift the veil.