PROFESSIONAL REVIEW: Unlearning, by Jack Halberstam

Our current crisis affords an opportunity to rethink the ways in which our institutions may prohibit rather than promote learning by severing us from alternative modes of knowing…Even in business worlds, the idea of individual wealth is becoming anachronistic [not chronological] as we live out the dire consequences of routing money through the individuals who make up the 1% while bankrupting the multitude who represent the 99% 

Jack Halberstam, Unlearning


The study of epistemology is not lost on intellectuals such as Jack (formerly Judith) Halberstam. I was reminded of Speculative Design and Curriculum Development an article by Holly Willis and Steve Anderson in Halberstam’s argument against capitalist-driven humanities. These three authors agree that learning is nonlinear; Halberstam suggests that the humanities can redesign the way we learn because of the way they defy clichés and expected forms of thinking (12). Likewise, Willis and Anderson support a college curriculum that is “imagined and constructed” (397) by their students. These claims are further supported by Cathy Davidson’s observation that because the world changes indefinitely, so must a citizen’s learning habits and perspective.

The position of Halberstam and the others is quite logical; as we become aware of new world crises, what is more appropriate than forming new solutions? Halberstam believes the humanities represent the “resistance to quantification and the “ability to ride new modes of communication into new realms of knowledge” (11). Therefore, he suggests a reorganization of English Studies from a genre or period to a more interdisciplinary focus, possibly forming a new form of global learning: for example, the inclusion of global cultures such as German, Italian and French. (I would suggest further, and inclusion of Middle Eastern studies and African Studies as to not become Euro-centered.) He relishes Steve Jobs’ accomplishments in Pixar animation: “Pixar’s three-dimensional worlds had depth. perspective, and perhaps the most important for our purposes, the algorithm for representing crowds, masses and multitudes in all their complexity rather than as a single figure repeated across the screen” (15). Halberstam’s support of a big business seems contradictory to his views on capitalism, but the representation of multitude is hard to ignore.
Finally, Halberstam briefly compares the current humanities movement to colonialism. Just like anticolonial (or “post-colonial”) and anticapitalist movements, the humanities will not base learning on Utopian (dominant) culture concepts. Rather, they will raise awareness of the end of ‘normal life’ concepts; that new ideas may come from everyone in collective awareness. This echoes the work of Anne McClintock in The Angel of Progress. McClintock observes that the term “signals a reluctance to surrender the privilege of seeing the world in terms of a singular and a-historical abstraction…I am struck by how seldom the term is used to denote multiplicity” (1187). Halberstam and McClintock maintain that we should move beyond the known realm of education to push forward for a more global and communitive way of life.


Halberstam, Jack. “Unlearning.” Modern Language Association Profession (2012): 9-16.MLA International Bibliography. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s