Lost in Translation: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Education and the Question of Abrichtung (Training)


Here’s the abstract for a short paper I’ve been preparing for a conference:

As a landmark philosopher of language and of mind, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work, particularly in the Philosophical Investigations, has been taken up by philosophers of education in English. Christopher Winch (1998), Michael A. Peters (1999), Nicholas Burbules (2010), and others (e.g. Aparece 2005) have engaged extensively with the implications of the later Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mind and language for education. One challenge that that they face is Wittgenstein’s use of the word “training” throughout his discussions of language learning and in his periodic references to education. This is made all the more problematic by realizing that the term Wittgenstein actually used was Abrichtung, which refers exclusively to animal dressage or obedience training, connoting also the breaking of an animal’s will. This little-recognized fact has broad implications for many important Wittgenstinian insights into education, extending from literacies as language games to teaching as ostensive definition. This paper sheds light on these implications as well as on those more broadly relevant to Wittgenstein’s life and thought.

Read this short piece here (pdf). 

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John Dewey as Media Theorist ?!

imageedit_4_9673016220I’ve been working on this for submission to the John Dewey Society: 

Communication and (Educational) Media: Dewey as a Theorist avant la lettre

In addition to being an educational reformer and philosopher nonpareil, John Dewey also theorized media and communication. The inimitable Marshall McLuhan once characterized Dewey as “surf-boarding along on the new electronic wave [that] …has now rolled right over this age.” Dewey himself repeatedly emphasized that “the radio, the railway, telephone, telegraph” had rendered “social life …almost completely changed.” This paper undertakes a historical reconstruction of Dewey’s theory of communication and media avant la lettre, particularly as it relates to education, scholarship and democracy. It then considers his later privileging of “communicative” aesthetics and the “winged words” of oral communication. It concludes that despite its periodic imprecision and ambivalence, Dewey’s “theory” of media and communication in education remains both current and compelling.

Read the whole paper proposal here.

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Bildung, Currere and the Task of Remebrance

Presentation given as a part of the EDCP 2014-2015 Seminar Series, “International Perspectives in Curriculum and Pedagogy” hosted by William E. Doll Jr., Donna Trueit and William Pinar.

Bildung, Currere and the Task of Remeberance from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

ABSTRACT: Franz Kafka opens his intimate “Letter to his Father” by admitting that he simply cannot come to terms with his own upbringing –“because… the magnitude of the matter goes far beyond the scope of …memory and understanding.” Nonetheless, the method of currere –like other autobiographical methods– encourages educators to undertake “a subjective reconstruction of academic knowledge and lived experience.” Kafka’s concerns are used, perhaps paradoxically, to frame a similar educational “task of remembrance” by German scholar Klaus Mollenhauer. This presentation explores Mollenhauer’s understandings of Bildung and remembrance with the hope of opening up a space of dialogue between Continental and North American educational thought.

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Herbart on Pedagogical Tact

In 1802, J.F. Herbart (1776-1841) gave a brilliant lecture on pedagogical tact, which provides many insights that remain relevant today. Here’s a 1898 translation of Herbart’s lecture, provided courtesy of Google Books.

See the whole PowerPoint presentation, which situates Herbart’s discussion of tact in the context of the broader relationship between phenomenology and pedagogy.

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Expression of the Hands (Ausdruck der Hände)

In this 1997 documentary, director and narrator Harun Farocki offers what might be called a phenomenology of the hand in cinema. The phenomenon in question, of course, is the expressive power and possibilities of the hands in film. In this sense, it can be seen as similar to the phenomenological studies of poetry and literature, such as those of Bachelard or Ingarden, rather than a study of a lived experience per se.

Expressions of Hands (Ausdruck der Hände) 1997 from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

As a phenomenologist should, Farocki reveals a depth and complexity in his subject matter that is surprising, even evocative of wonder. E.g.:

“Film loves to show the pianist’s hand as much as a hand holding a gun.”

“The fist close-ups in the history of film were of the face; the next featured human hands. Often, hands are supposed to betray something hidden in the expression of the face. For example, the hand might tightly hold onto a glass, while the face appears calm.”

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Hiedegger – the Magus of Messkirch

A 1989 documentary about Martin Heidegger, born and raised a Roman Catholic in Messkirch, Baden-Württemberg. An excellent video with well-translated English subtitles. In a number of interview fragments included here, Heidegger explains his thinking with atypical simplicity and clarity. His speech also might be seen to illustrate the rhythm and pacing of his thinking or “philosophizing.” The piece probes some of the more complex and controversial aspects of Heidegger’s thought and life. Unfortunately, given the date of its release, it does not reflect the deep implication, both in thought and action, with National Socialism that has been revealed more recently.

The Magician of Messkirch- Martin Heidegger (Rudiger Safranski, 1989) from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

Personal note: This video beings by showing a debate between H.G. Gadamer, Jacques Derrida (right) and Jean-Luc Nancy (left) that I attended in Heidelberg back in the day. Sadly, history has shown Gadamer’s insistence on Heidegger’s “shameful silence” in the face of Nazi atrocities to be false.

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Old Literacies and the “New” Literacy Studies: Revisiting Reading and Writing

Video “abstract” and paper that recently appeared in the open, online journal Seminar.net.

This paper traces a discontinuous and material history of “schooling,” writing and its technologies, rather than one that would be continuous and etymological or cultural in focus (i.e. going back, say, to Medieval Europe or ancient Greece).

The results, I think, are rather astonishing: Material and communicative practices that we associate with traditional schooling (e.g., frontal instruction, recitation, complex instructional sequences) reappear not over centuries but millenia.

This has significant implications for notions of school, (multi-)literacies and ways that literacy overall is understood. In addition to presenting examples from the discontinuous, material history of inscriptive practice (and its reproduction), this paper focuses on these consequences.    

Download a PDF of the complete paper.

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McLuhan's 1960 Report on Project in Understanding New Media

Untitled-1This two-volume text was commissioned by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. In the opening paragraph, McLuhan refers to it as “Project 69,” and memorably explains its purpose as follows:

Project 69 in Understanding Media proposed to provide an approach to media and a syllabus for teaching the nature and effects of media in secondary schools. A new tactic was used, namely to consider not so much the constituents nor the “content” of media, as their effects. I therefore raise the question at once: “Why have the effects of media, whether speech, writing, photography or radio, been overlooked by social observers through the past 3500 years of the Western world?”

In the cryptic note at the top right (on p. 2), McLuhan writes to Harley Parker, with whom he later co-authored Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting (1968) and Counterblast (1969). Parker also appears with McLuhan in the 28 min 1969 film Picnic in Space, directed by Bruce Bacon.

This text reflects McLuhan’s then-coalescing thought as it relates to both education and to multiple media forms; and the text serves as relatively direct and clearly-written precursor for the 1964 Understanding Media.

The full text of this report is available as a 7.5 Mb PDF file.

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New Doc. Course: Phenomenological Research & Writing


Here’s the description: What is the experience of a conversation via Skype or Facetime? What are the experiences of absence or divided attention that technologies of “presence” bring to our everyday lives? The purpose of this course is to give a “hands-on” introduction to the methods involved in the research of the nature and meaning of such lived experiences. Based largely on the work of Max van Manen and Bernhard Waldenfels –but also relying on texts by Heidegger, Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty– it focuses on the practices of writing and analysis that are a part of hermeneutic phenomenological research. Students will learn about and apply hermeneutic phenomenology as it relates to doctoral research projects, particularly in connection with education, technology & new media.


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Visiting Prof @ UBC Vancouver

UBC Faculty Card

I’ve taken up an appointment as a Visiting Professor at UBC for the 2014-2015 academic year. (I’ll still be available at my Boise State email.)

At the same time, I’ve transferred some domain names (e.g. phandpr.org, learningspaces.org, normfriesen.info) to new servers, and have started to use UBC’s blogging and wiki server (thanks to Brian Lamb!). I apologize for any interruptions in access during this time.

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