Toward a New Gnostic Pedagogy 1

In the education of children preference for the present moment is the common definition of Evil. […] But condemnation of the present moment for the sake of the future is an aberration. Just as it is necessary to forbid easy access to it, so it is necessary to regain the domain of the moment (the kingdom of childhood), and that requires temporary transgression of the interdict.

Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil

Let us examine our instruments. Let us lay them on the desk. Let us catalogue and name them. Weights and measures, rubrics and forms, a panoply of mock archons, patient bureaucratic gatekeepers composed of carefully recorded matrices, networks of coded progress embedded across multiple servers. Presumptions of care, improvement, and paternalist tenderness structure the classroom as “safe space,” inhabited by educable subjects. The new gnostic pedagogy views the classroom as a site of ungovernable risk, a space whose potentials for transgression, whose tendency to abandon the project—not this or that project, but the project of education itself—outstrips even the most valiant administrative actuaries.

Gnostic pedagogy renews the question: what is the teaching of nonknowledge? In place of the axiomatic educable subject, the student who “needs improvement” as the formula runs, gnostic pedagogy offers the following: the student is whole, wholly evil, and wholly sovereign. Instead of a benighted daughter, the student appears as the horrific emanation of knowledge itself, opened only by the most disorienting communication, sovereign and ineducable not because of ignorance but because of a prior gnosis that resists all upbringing, and that all upbringing means to repress.

Gnostic pedagogy thickens the membrane between present and future, creating temporal exiles in academies located just east of Eden. It discloses the homogeneity of time and the empty requirement of project, only to make available the time of passion on which patience verges. Thus ‘boredom’ is one of the tactics of the Gnostic pedagogy, a tactic of distraction, of wandering, of error. The distinction between potential and actual breaks down in this moment, which reduces a finite saeculum to an infinitesimal punctum. It is in this sense and this sense alone, that the gnostic pedagogy is new: its archons recede into a nonfuture, an eschatological category of the not-yet-present that negates all futurity. They sit on these borderlands, guardians and watchers. The time of the project, of distinction, of pass/fail, of the grade as instrument, rushes to fill the void formed by their leave-taking.

​What is this quiet anathema of the grade, which discloses the limits of educability and the fragile condition of childhood? We learn to—we learn in order to— project our frailties into the future as the horizon of death, of meaningful death. This norm is the apodictic educational symptom, perpetuating itself forever as an endless strategy of containment. Gnostic pedagogy does not seek to eliminate the grade, but to suggest failure as a necessary outcome. The failing grade is not the failure of the pupil, nor even of the grade itself; the failure of the failing grade is prior to any structure of ordination and degree. Gnostic pedagogy multiplies rigor as its ancient interlocutors multiplied cosmic veils: the impossible task taken to its extreme limit becomes the site of a possible abandonment of the project not as “quitting” or “giving up,” but as final renunciation, the recognition that what we know rests wholly upon what we do not, a rejection of project itself.