“… Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…”
― Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
An odd scenario has evolved in how we negotiate art, politics, and interpretation when considering the relationship between intersubjectvity and the circulation of meaning in the teaching of literature. A new morality has emerged: forget a ‘spoiler alert’ and you’ve committed a punishable heresy. Who dies at the end of a season of Breaking Bad? Serious business, people. Existential necessity. Just Good manners. But as for ‘trigger warnings’ [TW]? Shit, that’s just crybaby neoliberal self-petting for the snowflake and kleenex crowd, for those disposed to “fragility of mind“.
Now, I’ve procrastinated on writing on this topic in the same way I sidestep “death of the humanities” debates. The arguments are vociferous and dispersed, with a conglomerate of tenured professors siding together in detecting a “chilling effect on our teaching and pedagogy“, with the frigidity of puritanical TW advocates and millennial whingers collaborating in the straight jacketing of literature and its magnanimous task to challenge the naive. You’d need a page to list the entire bibliography of this point of view, which has enjoyed a fair whack of “father knows best” in big academic publications.
However, those supporting trigger warnings or content notices have either been ignored, miscast as proponents of censorship and pedagogical restriction, or just unremarkable ableism that implies that those of soft constitutions should best stick to Archie comics. There have, however, been several very good defences — I recommend Shakesville and Samantha Field for start. And, this morning, Julia Serano proposed some evaluations, in an essay over 6000 words. Serano notes a generational issue in play, but I’m not so sure of that. Regardless, one does sense that an older professoriate has absorbed too much Admin-think; and they now preach that tough love is the TruthHurts.edu for the weak-soled kids of the now.
Really, I would probably have jogged past the subject, throwing my hands up in dismay at the fray, if not for a scholar I greatly admire, Jack Halberstam, offering a much-discussed intervention into the field.
In terms of joining the debate, Halberstam’s essay felt like a second-half substitute of another striker in football (soccer), a fresh pair of legs rushing onto the pitch to replace a wearied captain playing midfield. To put it another way, Halberstam brings flash where for too long we only heard administrative arguments against TW. Halberstam’s dazzling style of aggressive play, albeit appearing somewhat late in the match, is mostly tooth and less tactics: “all social difference in terms of hurt feelings and that divides up politically allied subjects into hierarchies of woundedness,” he writes gnashingly of TWs.
With the dozens of heavy footed pieces out there, I realize the contribution I might make is how I — as an openly transsexual woman in university classrooms — use TW in my syllabus and course dynamics