Teaching for Food, 2

Not to Be Called Rabbi


But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. —Matthew 23:8 NRSV

How to elaborate a flat pedagogy, a non-pedagogy? How to effect a radical leveling of the pedagogic relation? Which is to say, how to get beyond pedagogy as such?

Pedagogy is the authorization of teaching, the subjection of the teacher to the master and the delegation of the labour of subjectivization to the teacher.1 Pedagogy legitimates the teacher who presumes to be on the way to the beyond of teaching, the place where they might finally stop taking sustenance. A non-pedagogy is the refusal of this beyond, a minoritation refusal, a subterranean refusal, an ob-jectionable refusal. To remain beyond, to remain outside of the beyond of teaching, is to refuse to be professional, to refuse the promise of the false beyond, to refuse to be the master’s pawn.2

Levinas writes that the “master,” in whom the “incessance” of the “magisterial” voice is concretized, is the “coinciding of the teaching and the teacher.”3 The master’s speech “teaches this teaching itself, by virtue of which it alone can teach (and not, like maieutics, awaken in me).”4 Such is the power of the Other, its “exteriority” to the self, its affronting “heterogeneity.”5 The “Other our master,” the “Other my master,”6 is the one who’s voice possesses its own proper place,7 the “autoposition or causa sui that is ideal in the last instance.”8 The master in its ideal unity “overcomes this anarchy of facts” (existence, the ontic, the real) and yet it is precisely this anarchy, this mass, this sea, this factiality9 of what is that is the teacher’s concern, which is to say, the concern of study. The master, the expert, consolidates the sea of facts through the power of a voice, the very movement by which the voice attains to its authority. But the teacher acknowledges the “non-facticity of facticity,” the “non-factual essence of fact as such,” which can be articulated with the “precise claim” that “contingency alone is necessary.”10 Factiality is the “principle of unreason,” the annihilation of the unity upon which the master depends.11 This unreason is the mole-logic of the unprofessional teacher, the teacher who remains a student, who “keeps studying, keeps planning to study, keeps running to study, keeps studying a plan, keeps elaborating a debt.”12 The master pretends to be a creditor while remaining in debt to being. This is a debt that the teacher-student “does not intend to pay.”13

Levinas requires a speculative rereading, an unprofessional rereading, a rereading whereby the deposition, the de-position, of the master might be accomplished. Levinas’s master has become the subject of policy, of pedagogy, “posit[ing] curriculum against study, child development against play, human capital against work.”14 The master resides “in a dimension of height,”15 forgetting that it did not always live there, vision without a body, a blazing eye, the cooption16 of optics by the transcendental-pedagogic magisterium.

Study operates according to a “competence” without “authority,”17 refuses to exchange competence for “credit,”18 finding an “[i]ntense pleasure in skill”19 without “interest,”20 which is to say, an ungovernable skill, an unconsolidated skill, a fugitive skill.

Mastery is a passion for oneness, for the authority of completeness. And yet, the one divides itself, shatters the socket, establishes its perspective in a transcendental remove: self-positing, self-affirming, self-maintaining isolation. If we follow our speculative rereading to its conclusion, we find this lonely unity to be self-defeating, the formula of self=self a tautological duel, carried out interminably, the repetition without end of its founding violence.21 The tautological one, the philosophical one, is caught in the moment of its own self-annihilation, its mastery a mastery of torturous prolongation.

Teaching must be unshackled, released from its slavery, returned to its study. The teacher abandons the unity of the one in order to find it again in the unreason of study, but now as a “totality of insufficiency,” a “finite and generic one.”22 Profoundly without reason, the teacher takes up “debt as its own principle,” “debt unpayable,”23 the absolute, irreversible determination in the last instance of “this one; this one here; this one here in person.”24 This determination is the factiality of study, the unreasonableness of the unprofessional teacher, the fact of contingency alone, which accomplishes in a stroke the irreducibility of any one to any other. The generalization to the real of the very heterogeneity and externality that Levinas seeks in the face of the other is achieved in the immanence of absolute contingency.

You are all students. The teaching we seek is “study without an end,” an “infinitely complex” debt, a belonging in that “fugitive public” where “bad debt elaborates itself.”25 This flat pedagogy denies the “therapy of [our] interests,” refuses to become “invested,” is happy to “never graduate.” 26 It is, as such, a non-pedagogy, the refusal to participate in the system of circulation and exchange, debt and credit, mastery and subjection.

You are not to be called rabbi, but to “elaborate … debt without credit,” “debt without count, without interest, without repayment,” to meet with those who “dwell in a different compulsion,” whose subterranean study is to “carry bags of newspaper clippings, or sit at the end of the bar, or stand at the stove cooking, or sit on a box at the newsstand, or speak through bars, or speak in tongues.”27 Non-pedagogy refuses to overcome this anarchy of facts, revels in the possibility of this anarchy, in its “conspiratorial, heretical, criminal, amateur” possibility.28

You have one teacher—the Nazarene beckons us into study. “Sometimes the story is not clear, or it starts in a whisper. It goes around again but listen, it is funny again, every time.”29 Parables become instruments for direct action. We tear down the towers and return their materials to the surround. We sit, we gather, we tell stories, we listen: “debt flows through us.”30 We share. “This knowledge has been degraded, and the research rejected”—incomplete, insufficient, utterly without authority.31


  1. See “pedagogue,” Wiktionary, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pedagogue: “(historical, Ancient Greece) A slave who led the master’s children to school, and had the charge of them generally.” 

  2. These ideas are drawn from Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe, UK: Minor Compositions, 2013), 27. 

  3. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 69-70. 

  4. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 69. 

  5. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 69. 

  6. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 72. 

  7. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven F. Rendall (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988). 

  8. François Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, trans. Rocco Gangle (London, UK: Continuum, 2010), 109. 

  9. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London, UK: Continuum, 2009), 79. 

  10. Meillassoux, After Finitude, 79-80. 

  11. Meillassoux, After Finitude, 60. 

  12. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 62. 

  13. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 62. 

  14. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 81. 

  15. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 75. 

  16. To be clear, this co-option is decisional, the splitting of the eye, or rather, the scooping of the eye from its socket, the philosophical gesture whereby the repoussoir of the autopositional subject is brought about, which is the bracketing of the gaze that contains the gaze in itself, the very self-possession of its power as transcendental tautology: the gaze gazing. See [@laruelle_philosophies_2010], 214. 

  17. De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 7. 

  18. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 61: “They say we have too much debt. We need better credit, more credit, less spending. They offer us credit repair, credit counseling, microcredit, personal financial planning. They promise to match credit and debt again, debt and credit. But our debts stay bad. We keep buying another song, another round. It is not credit we seek nor even debt but bad debt which is to say real debt, the debt that cannot be repaid, the debt at a distance, the debt without creditor, the black debt, the queer debt, the criminal debt. Excessive debt, incalculable debt, debt for no reason, debt broken from credit, debt as its own principle” (my emphasis). 

  19. Donna J. Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” in Manifestly Haraway (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016 [1985]), 65. 

  20. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 73: “The student has no interests. The student’s interests must be identified, declared, pursued, assessed, counseled, and credited. Debt produces interests. The student will be indebted. The student will be interested. Interest the students! The student can be calculated by her debts, can calculate her debts with her interests. She is in sight of credit, in sight of graduation, in sight of being a creditor, of being invested in education, a citizen. The student with interests can demand policies, can formulate policy, give herself credit, pursue bad debtors with good policy, sound policy, evidence-based policy. The student with credit can privatize her own university. The student can start her own NGO, invite others to identify their interests, put them on the table, join the global conversation, speak for themselves, get credit, manage debt. Governance is interest-bearing. Credit and debt. There is no other definition of good governance, no other interest. The public and private in harmony, in policy, in pursuit of bad debt, on the trail of fugitive publics, chasing evidence of refuge. The student graduates. But not all of them.” 

  21. Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference

  22. Alexander R. Galloway, Laruelle: Against the Digital (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), xii-xiii. 

  23. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 61, 67. 

  24. Galloway, Laruelle, xiii. 

  25. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 67, 64, 65. 

  26. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 66, 67. 

  27. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 68. 

  28. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 68. 

  29. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 69. 

  30. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 69. 

  31. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 69.