Educational Fantasies in a Dystopian Conjunture

boy beaten up
The students took turns slapping their fellow student even as the teacher watched on. (Screengrab)

On August 24, 2023, in a private school in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, teacher Tripta Tyagi instructed students to take turns hitting a fellow student, who was of the Muslim faith and had apparently made multiplication errors. Tyagi referred derogatorily to “Mohammedan children,” insinuating that they get spoiled when their mothers don’t prioritize their studies. She urged a student to hit harder, questioning, “Why are you hitting him lightly? Hit him hard.” As the distressing incident unfolded, Tyagi continued by asking whose turn was next and instructing, “This time hit his back… don’t hit his face, it’s turning red.”

At first glance, the above incident may seem as if the teacher is arbitrarily imposing her authoritarian will upon an utterly degraded student. But the fantasy driving this violence takes an inverse structure: the teacher assumes the role of a passive spectator, positioning the student as the subject. This student’s perceived negligence grants him access to an excessive enjoyment that ostensibly spoils him more than his Hindu peers. Contrary to what might be assumed, the sadistic violence inflicted by Tyagi doesn’t merely turn the student into an object for her will. Rather, it transforms her into an object for the Other’s enjoyment. In the words of Jacques Lacan: “The sadist discharges the pain of existence into the Other, but without seeing that he himself thereby turns into an ‘eternal object.’”

The figure of the suffering student foregrounds the illicit enjoyment that has been attributed to him. By physically assaulting the otherized student, the perpetrators attempt to recover the entire reservoir of libidinal gratification from him. This satisfaction, however, doesn’t exist. Its coordinates are constructed through the positing of the neglectful student, who functions as an obstacle in the path of the educational normality that the teacher wishes to bring about. “What we conceal by imputing to the Other the theft of enjoyment,” writes Slavoj Žižek, “is the traumatic fact that we never possessed what was allegedly stolen from us”. Mainstream enjoyment is constituted in the very act of beating the Other, who simultaneously accesses the fantasized satisfaction and blocks its achievement by the aggrieved majority.

Given that the Other is both a barrier to enjoyment and the site for an endlessly appealing enjoyment, his continued presence is essential for the hegemonic subject’s identity. When talking about the racist fantasy, Todd McGowan notes: “extreme violence doesn’t just combat an excess; it reproduces it in the guise of eliminating it. The racist subject feeds off the enjoyment that it imputes to the racial other in the fantasy, especially when the racist is destroying this other…despite reviling this racial other, the racist subject must unconsciously identify with this figure in order to access the enjoyment that it hoards for itself.” Insofar as the teacher enjoys through the Other, it is incorrect to see her an all-powerful subject humiliating an objectified student to establish a new educational regime wherein all are capable of enjoying themselves to the full. The teacher’s conscious imagination staves off the reality of her unconscious, which enjoys through the figure of the otherized student.

By refusing to be responsible for her enjoyment, the teacher styles herself as a transparent instrument of a new Educational Future, whose dictates she is supposed to be following with mechanical rigidity. This is what led Theodor Adorno to remark, “The image of the teacher repeats, no matter how dimly, the extremely affect-laden image of the executioner.” The executioner is driven by hardness, completely indifferent to the consequences of their action. In the fascist phalanxes, bodies become insensitive to the emotional charge of relational dynamics. Boundaries are indispensable in order to register the Other as mere input for a larger project of religio-national regeneration. Adolf Hitler described the preferred fascist education as “a harsh one,” where “weakness must be stamped out” in order to generate a “violent, masterful, dauntless, cruel younger generation” with “nothing weak and tender about it.”

The hardness and instrumental rationality of fascist pedagogy masks its unconscious dependence on the Other, whose unrestrained enjoyment motivates the subject to undertake hate campaigns. Just like “love jihad,” in which the value of Hindu women increases due to the threat posed by the predatory sexuality of Muslim males, the glory of education is secured through the otherized student whose subterfuge enables him to enjoy at the expense of the pedagogic majority. This fascist fantasy can be combated only through what Avijit Pathak calls the spirit of “mutual trust,” in which “nuanced conversations, reflections on multiple ways of seeing, the art of listening…[and] the willingness to expand one’s mental/intellectual horizon,” reveal that we all are lacking, that none of has total satisfaction and that our incompleteness can be a source of creative connections.

Yanis Iqbal is studying at Aligarh Muslim University, India. He has published over 300 articles on social, political, economic and cultural issues. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Education in the Age of Neoliberal Dystopia”. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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