Students should be open to learning, not parrot party beliefs unquestionedPoliticians, in filling universities with party adherents, have helped erode the strength of free thought that would have come only with the right education.
In this short paper, I want to examine the relationship between pedagogy and the norms that dominate social activities, especially politics. Out of the repertoire of the pedagogic experiences, I want to recall my moments of teaching Marx to students of literature. As it is related to some curricular activity, I am only able to speak about my own experience of teaching Marx to the graduates, which spans nearly half-a-century of free karma. Teaching a course could be seen as rigmarole, an earthly activity. But over time, that experience becomes your memory, and you begin to wonder if what you did for so many years bore some fruits or it was just a vacuous exercise. The answer is not easy and direct.
I do not keep any illusions about the impact of teaching a course to some interested and some unwilling students. I have always worked my way through such contact zones—meeting and parting moments. We mainly include Marx in literary curricula under a course called literary theory. Marxism is one of several theories like feminism, poststructuralism, historicism, structuralism, and so on. A literature department now would consider the anthropogenic study of literature. Ironically, the 21st century has become very human-oriented, not by developing a new version of humanism but by developing a very complex mechanism that directly links human beings to the apocryphal possibilities. The loss of respect for social values, dignity, human rights and freedom of expression on the one hand, and the reckless dissolution of human bodies that include children on the other has ironically brought this century face to face with the human body and its abodes. That is why we find courses in literature that give exposure to this phenomenon.
But Marxism has always continued to influence literary pedagogy. Teaching Marx, albeit on a limited scale, has always been part of the literary pedagogy at the graduate level in the English departments. I want to introduce a few possible arguments here. As teachers, we would not know how many students sitting in the class might be Marxists, or to use the Nepali common parlance, communists. One need not be a communist to be familiar with Marxist aesthetics. That is one exciting part of the literary pedagogy that we have developed. I guess the Nepali, Maithili and Nepal Bhasha departments too teach Marxism to graduates of literature. I am familiar with the Nepali curricula because I examine their PhD dissertations and research work. Some personal narratives are in order.
I explained 'the communist manifesto' included in the graduate-level course of English literary studies at a teacher orientation seminar held in Butwal in the year 1996. Attended by English teachers from all over the country, the orientation was very significant for learning new methods of teaching ideas and creative literature. I thoroughly explained the text by showing the links of the Marxist thoughts with other realms of creative activities. After some hours a young man came and politely gave me a sealed letter. It was written by some unit of the communist party of Butwal asking me formally, 'Comrade, we would like to invite you to give a talk to our party members about the communist manifesto'. As a teacher, I was mighty delighted. There are several other episodes. One related to Jacques Derrida's 'Spectres of Marx' is equally fascinating. I can say that teaching Marx to students of literature has always produced great enthusiasm and positive responses. Those who respond like this are not necessarily communists; they include those who know how important being familiar with Marxism is.
What intrigues me is that Marxism as such is not discussed or taught to the many communist youths. I was shocked to find that many active communists and party members are not even familiar with The Communist Manifesto. A great ellipsis in Marxist studies in Nepal is part of a culture of the communists who would cry hoarse in the name of Marx but not properly study his thoughts. That gives rise to a bigger question—are the big and small communist parties Marxists at all? The reason I am asking is that the Nepal Communist Party government appears to drift away from the very basic principles of Marxism, like addressing the needs of the poor farmers and disenfranchised people.
The crony capitalism that rules the roost in the county today would not let any Marxist thoughts of amelioration come near it. I was asked to speak about Marxism and postmodernism at one seminar organised by the Mohan Vaidya faction of the Communist Party of Nepal in September 2013 in Kathmandu. In this seminar attended by the senior Indian Marxist critic Manager Pandey and other Nepali Marxist aesthetes, I said I am a teacher, and teach Marxist aesthetic thoughts in class, but I am not a member of any communist party of Nepal.
That is precisely what I have been trying to develop in this short article based on my experience as a teacher. A university education bereft of political meddling has the power to make people truly educated in matters that are important for knowledge. But the concerned authorities have precisely missed that very point. Their policies of filling universities with party people under such rubrics as 'communist' or 'congress' will only create people who would parrot your factional ideas by losing the strength of free thought that would come only with the right education. We are following a destructive path of shutting out avenues of being free and educated, which even some conscientious politicians like our erstwhile student and current Member of Parliament (from the Nepal Communist Party), Ram Kumari Jhankri, has been echoing in her occasional speeches.
Teaching Marx to students of literature is an essential practice that we have realised for long. Our graduates of yesteryear and present times will tell you more about the power of such free pedagogy.
What do you think?
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