John Zorn
John Cage
J-S Bach


The Truth In Teaching

From Prof. Pasler I learned that as students interrogate themselves, taking a critical stance toward the sources of their work as musicians, they should be encouraged to become aware of the possibility that theoretical discourses current in other arts, humanities and science disciplines could have important implications for their work. As part of CSEP, I began to realize that the fields of critical theory and cultural studies, including the emerging areas of feminist musicology, ethnic studies, 'queer theory' and other post-colonial and post-modern discourses, were becoming central to an understanding, not only of what the students were doing, but of my own activity as composer, improvisor, and my emerging role as scholar (George E. Lewis in Zorn, p.96).

[1] A Ph.D. dissertation on deconstruction in music. Five times around or beside music. Five 'chapters' on the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and on different parts of the musical body. Five. Or better, four plus one. This one. This is the one. Connected to and separate from the other four. Separate because it starts from a different institution, a different discourse, a different plateau. In the other four parts of the site I relate to, react to, join some musicological works; this one is in some way connected with the pedagogical institution, with texts on education. What keeps me busy here is the possible relationships between deconstruction, music and pedagogy. What can deconstruction mean for music education? How can deconstruction be connected with music education? How is deconstruction always already connected with, that is, present within music education? Can we rethink music education through deconstruction? How can or how does it influence music teachers, students, and the teaching material? These questions will occupy me here. They will lead me/us. They will take me/us on a journey of which the destination is unknown. Perhaps we will never even reach a destination. For example, when we consider the destination of this journey as the clear and unambiguous answers to the questions posed. In this sense, it is already quite different from conventional ideas on education whose criteria of success are determined mostly by calculable needs or outcomes and calculated use (cf. Blake et al., p.147-8). Does this mean, then, that we will not learn anything from this journey? Or, is this already a first concealed opening to a different kind of learning, a different kind of education in which deconstruction is present(ed)? I will return to this. Later. At another place.

[2] Why a section on deconstruction and music education? Why turn to a discourse, why come to an assemblage that is quite far removed from the musicological? Why this 'hors d'oeuvre', this side dish or this ring? The answer is, first of all, personal and private. My probing deeply into deconstruction, deeply into the philosophy of Derrida (which is not the same), seems to influence many different fields of my (musical) life. Deconstruction is not something that stops at the borders of my academic work, at the borders of the university campus, or when I turn off my computer and play the piano. I realize how deconstruction influences my way of teaching jazz music (that is to say, how deconstruction is present and 'at work' in teaching jazz music), how it influences the teaching material I am composing for my students, and how it thus influences my students as well.

[3] 'If deconstruction takes place everywhere, it takes place, where there is something' (Letter to a Japanese Friend, p.4). Something. Just something. This means that deconstruction is therefore not limited to meaning or to text in the bookish sense of the word. In many different places Derrida warns us against the idea that deconstruction is 'only' a particular reading strategy of philosophical texts. 'I would say that the most effective deconstruction is that which is not limited to discursive texts and certainly not to philosophical texts, even though personally - I speak of myself as one agent among others of deconstructive work - and for reasons related to my own history, I feel more at ease with philosophical and literary texts', Derrida says (Brunette & Wills, p.14). And he continues: 'Beyond an institution, the academic institution, for example, deconstruction is operating, whether we like it or know it or not, in fields that have nothing to do with what is specifically philosophical or discursive, whether it be politics, the army, the economy, or all the practices said to be artistic' (Brunette & Wills, p.14-5). Elsewhere he relates this more explicitly to the pedagogical institution: 'Deconstruction - or at least what I proposed under this name that could just as well had been another - thus is, in principle, always oriented to the teaching system and its functioning in general' (Politiques de la philosophie, p.65, my translation).
One more station. In The Truth in Painting, Derrida addresses the necessity of deconstruction: 'Following the consistency of its logic, it attacks not only the internal edifice, both semantic and formal, of philosophemes, but also what one would be wrong to assign to it as its external housing, its extrinsic conditions of practice: the historical forms of its pedagogy, the social, economic or political structures of this pedagogical institution. It is because deconstruction interferes with solid structures, 'material' institutions, and not only with discourses or signifying representations, that it is always distinct from an analysis or a 'critique'. And in order to be pertinent, deconstruction works as strictly as possible in that place where the supposedly ‘internal’ order of the philosophical is articulated by (internal and external) necessity with the institutional conditions and forms of teaching' (The Truth in Painting, p.19, my italics).
Could we substitute here 'music' for 'philosophemes' and 'the musical' for 'the philosophical'? Could we extend this 'necessity of deconstruction' to the realm of music education, in particular the teaching of jazz music? This is what I wish to examine here on this part of the site. However, in order to do so, I have to go beyond Derrida's writings. First, because he has not written anything about music (education), and second, because he writes in only very guarded terms and rudimentary sketches about the practice of teaching. How does deconstruction enter the classrooms of a music school where jazz music is taught? How can and does it influence thought on jazz (education) of both teachers and students? And what could this mean for the teaching material? These questions might take deconstruction to places where it is still concealed, unnoticed, not yet recognized. Here we are; this is the place, the space, I would like to open.

[4] Why 'The Truth In Teaching'? Why this provocative, presumptuous, perhaps exaggerated title? It might be a reaction against the provocative, presumptuous, perhaps exaggerated pretensions of education in general. The purpose of education, schools, teachers is to tell the truth, i.e., to discern and decide between the true and the false. The pedagogical fiction is that it is possible for the subject to know the object of knowledge. As Derrida points out in GREPH,  the ideal of an educated person held by a given era is always predicated on the basis of a theory of truth (cf. Ulmer, p.167). The concept of logocentrism - the dominance of the word in a conception of knowledge that involves truth based on presence - fits. Education - in its various forms - is still dedicated to the achievement of universally applicable goals pre-defined by the grand narratives: emancipation, democracy, enlightenment, empowerment, truth (cf. Usher & Edwards, p.210). And for a long time, truth means the correspondence between knowledge, or insight, and the object to which it addresses itself, the close(d) correspondence between the representation and the real (cf. Deconstructive Sociology).
I would like to rethink this idea of truth. To me, truth means something else. I think there is no extra-discursive 'real' outside of text. The world does not consist of ready-made objects that can be put into representation. And theory cannot be seen to operate as a model to be tested for adequacy to the real. I want to dispense with the pretentions of theoretical machinery for the production of this kind of truth (cf. Game, p.4-16). A (my) deconstructive strategy consists in dismantling knowledge claims to this kind of truth. For that, I summon the assistance of Jasper Neel's deconstructive re-reading of Plato's Phaedrus, or his deconstructive re-reading of Derrida's deconstructive re-reading of Plato's Phaedrus in Dissemination. In Phaedrus, Plato, through Socrates, condemns writing calling it a pharmakon, a drug or poison. Writing is not the gateway to true wisdom, to Truth, but only its semblance. However, as I show more extensively in the section entitled Writing Above Logos, in order to do this, the one device Plato must have is writing. The only way he can speak in his own absence, speak with somebody else's voice, and speak out of his own time is in writing. As much as Plato would like to have truth precede and validate text (the correspondence between the real and its representation), even in his own system it emerges from text and is validated by the ability of one discourse to silence another (cf. Neel, p.23 and p.53). In Phaedrus, Plato offers to lead us out of the morass created by writing into the realm of truth. But what is the source of his power? It is precisely writing! Plato wants to give us Truth, but he cannot. He has to replace it with what it is not, i.e., writing. He wants to use writing to reveal Truth, but has to fight against the haunting possibility that Truth is writing, that truth is only in writing.
Writing cannot close itself down in the presentation of truth. And I think the same goes for teaching. Neel, Derrida, and Plato show us that the Real or Truth are products of our writing practices. On another plateau, Truth is produced in education and teaching (i.e. truth as a product of texts and textuality as well). It is not something that exists before teaching, something first discovered and than passed on by education.

[5] But this is still the 'old' truth. We are still dilating on the conventional ideas about Truth. What about this other idea of truth, this rethinking of truth? Let's continue. Let's go on without ever arriving at this 'new' truth. Différance.
As Derrida already brings forward in the beginning of 'Plato's Pharmacy', Plato is not simply condemning the writer's activity precisely by using this word, pharmakon, which, besides poison, can also mean remedy or medicine. The truth of the pharmakon is not that it means drug and poison or that it means medicine and remedy. The truth of the pharmakon (the truth of writing) is that open space in which it can mean many things. 'One is always tempted by this faith in the idiom: it supposedly says only one thing, properly speaking, and says it only in linking form and meaning too strictly to lend itself to translation. But if the idiom were this, were it what it is thought it must be, it would not be that, but it would lose all strength and would not make a language. It would be deprived of that which in it plays with truth-effects ... in truth what is at stake (that idiom) is the abyss' (The Truth In Painting, p.7). In Plato, Derrida and Writing, Neel argues that Plato clearly recognized writing as a forever-open opening. Its words are open spaces waiting to be filled (by other words), yet never finally filled up. By rethinking Derrida's essay on Plato, Neel states that Plato's 'condemnation' in fact saves writing by creating the opening in which truth becomes possible. 'The catch is that the Platonic frame of reference can open a text to the possibility of truth only by making truth a possibility; for truth to remain itself, it must remain forever a possibility, never an actuality. Thus, truth as a possibility depends on the impossibility of truth's appearing' (Neel, p.80.) (cf. Derrida's phrase in The Gift of Death: 'To think the possibility of such an event but not the event itself'.) Impossible, for writing is never finished. Plato reveals truth as the one thing beyond closure. Truth occurs in the impossibility of closure. 'Rather than a place or a destination, rather than the shelter of some closed and complete revelation, truth becomes an opening' (Neel, p.82).

[6] The Truth In Teaching is about this impossibility of closure, about opening. The Truth In Teaching is about teaching that is always already multiphonic, an interplay of voices. It is about the difference between teaching the 'old' truth and the 'new' truth, the difference between teaching as the 'old' or as the 'new' truth. It is about the difference between giving a lesson where what is given is clear and the unforeseeable, unexpected, impossible gift, present in each lesson. It is about the difference between musical texts that try to produce closure, that attempt to fix, and texts that invite a further writing and a rewriting (writing in a broad sense, including for example playing, reading, acting). The Truth In Teaching is about what this means for the teacher, the student, and the teaching material, when teaching means to give (safe) time, space, place for the advent of the other. That is, to really give a lesson is not a matter of intention and intentionality and, at the same time, impossible without the intention to give.

[7] These few exploring, outflanking, but hesitating, deferring, and above all, dispersing remarks should sketch the outlines of a section that contains in its very heart the most impudent proposal to a deconstructive music. Music 'composed' deconstructively on purpose. 'My own' music. (I stress 'composed' and 'my own' because each performance of this music means an expropriation at the same time). On purpose? Is that possible? Does deconstruction not withdraw from any intention? (Deconstruction is not an act or an operation, not the reflexivity of an ego or of a consciousness, Derrida explicitly writes in Letter to a Japanese Friend.) Let's say for the moment, rudimentarily and cautiously, I attempted to 'compose' music that defers the possibility of closure for as long as possible (somewhat like the poems of Mallarmé, perhaps).
In the 'heart' of this section of the site, there is an invitation. An invitation to meet music in a different way, or, perhaps, to meet different music. An invitation to whom? Some time ago, the invitation was extended to two professional musicians and some music students. And you can hear and read how they reacted to this invitation (cf. Intermezzo).

[8] Around this heart, around this center -  a center that can easily change into a periphery, a supplement, a margin - around this item that is, after all, just an intermezzo, around this proposal for some (deconstructive) teaching material, I have 'composed' other texts that (hopefully) open a space for rethinking (music) education, for thinking (music) education otherwise, for encountering already existing thoughts on (music) education otherwise.
Education: From Modernism to Postmodernism is, for the most part, an introduction to rethinking education in general, based on literature search. Proposals for what is called a new or post-modern pedagogy circle around invention instead of reproduction as the aim of teaching and learning, making an opening to the call of what is usually marginalized in education. Paying attention to what is excluded or marginalized immediately touches on an ethical component, always already present in education. I elaborate on the ethical implications of so-called post-modern pedagogy in Education and Ethics. Teaching a Supplement enters at length into particular examples of what regular education marginalizes: non-compulsory education, adult education, music education, jazz education. In Of Jazz Education, I begin by writing about my own experiences as a jazz music teacher at a music school in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The two main questions posed on that page are: What does it normally mean to teach jazz music? What could it mean to teach jazz music once we accept (and take the consequences of this understanding) that the concept of 'jazz' is an unstable concept, difficult to define, impossible to demarcate?
What are the pedagogical implications of a deconstruction of 'jazz'? An example of what this could imply with respect to teaching material is given on the page called Intermezzo, the name of a 'composition' that exceeds conventional jazz structures, harmonics, and patterns, but that still belongs to the jazz idiom. Rethinking (jazz) education, the concept of 'jazz' and teaching materials also means to reconsider and revise the role of the teacher. Some initial steps toward this end are described in The Role of the Teacher and To Give a (Music) Lesson.