Freire & Fromm on ‘Necrophily’

Just reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed and had to make a note of this quote.  Freire encourages us to adopt the general thesis that “only through communication can hold meaning” and suggests that in pedagogical situations the teacher may only authenticate their own thoughts through the thoughts of their students.  Hence “authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation”.

When pedagogy is based on a false, objectified or instrumental understanding of human beings, Freire contends, it cannot promote what Fromm terms ‘biophily’ (deep connection to life) but instead promotes its opposite.  Fromm’s description of this phenomena is strikingly Hegelian.

“When life is characterized by growth in a structured, functional manner, the necrophilous person loves all that does not grow, that is mechanical.  The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things…  The necrophilous person can relate to an object – a flower or a person – only if he possesses it […] if he loses possession he loses contact with the world… He loves control, and in the act of controlling he kills life.”

This seems distinct from, say, Freud’s depiction of the death-drive termed Thanatos.  If anything, it reflects a particular form of reification or category mistake.  But what I find more interesting is Freire’s way of describing this in an educational context.  Freire (perhaps not unproblematically) co-identifies impaired communication, dominance of thought in education and the necrophilic attitude.

“Oppression – overwhelming control – is necrophilic; it is nourished by love of death, not life.  The banking concept of education, which serves the interest of oppression, is also necrophilic.  Based on a mechanistic, static, naturalistic, spatialized view of consciousness, it transforms students into receiving objects.  It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.”

Freire, P. (1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin, London. p.58

EDIT: Someone else has also picked up on this and written something a bit more developed


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