I argued recently, at a conference concerned with the university’s navel, that students were delusional proles, professors petty bourgeois prison guards, and the university a toothless, demented schizophrenic, voiding its bowels. Today, in line with cultural studies’ own historical movements, I want to shift my register from one of class war, to one of class alliance. My aim is not to offer more conciliatory terms or tones, but hopefully, to strike a conspiratorial chord or two.
I begin, then, with three theses on the university that I will shade in, flesh out, and forget as I go along:
1) The university is irredeemably fucked
2) There are people, things, moments within the university that are not, as yet, irredeemable.
3) All is not lost, yet…
First things first then, irredeemable fuckery. It is not necessary to give here a list of the ways in which the university is being ‘fucked by neo-liberals’, to quote one of my esteemed cohorts, prof Johannes Effra. We know all too well what is being done, to whom and for whose pleasure. Everyday we read of new outrages, then send them hurtling across digital networks, garnering more outrage and exasperation at every node. ‘This finally proves it, again! We were always already right all along! Which we knew!’ And yet the university is not up to the task of proper retaliation, retribution, revenge, redemption. Our rape-alarm was ignored long ago as political correctness gone mad. In the absence of the type of force that would be capable of reversing the roles in this violent ritual of reproduction, we might, as I will argue, begin the process of beginning and becoming that force, in and across Cultural Studies. Urgently, we need to at least devise technologies and tactics that correspond to the prison defense of strategically placed razor blades. Cultural studies as preventative dismembering against the at-point-of-sale reproduction of the eternal self-same. Enough of this gruesome metaphor.
And yet, we still need to talk of insides. The university is not an island, cultural studies not an island within an archipelago. The current moment of the attack on higher education allows arguments that already festered under the infected bandages of New Labour to be exposed to the open air. Yet New Labour or the ConDem’s are only instants of a much longer, much larger movement and trajectory of Capital and its fecund ism. Cultural Studies is encircled, infiltrated, interpenetrated on all sides. Yet despite the painful realisation of power forcing its way in through the backdoor, and Scott Lash’s elaborate theorisation of power’s movement in and out, in and out, how much attention do we actually pay to the relations we are replicating in thought, in theory, in the classroom, in the feedback forms and feeding troughs of cultural studies.
Teaching should not be a white noise so dense that questioning, discussion, dissent and critique cannot enter. Why is the management of these latter moments subcontracted out to PhD students, who watch their wage drop to minimum as the hours they work, and those that they are actually paid for fly in opposite directions. Why is a department dedicated to critical studies adverse to, or seemingly disinterested in, student criticism. What is it exactly that academics have to rush off and do? Is book writing and the battle against the bureaucracy of excellence more important than say: a collective, dereifying, militant and researched, response to: austerity, imperialism, the ever more intensive and extensive degradation of the life-world and the planet that grounds it. I’m not saying the former doesn’t have to be done, only that we need to do it differently. As pop-up pretense for when senior management’s periscope swivels to face us, if needs be. This is not meant as in-fighting, civil war, or shitting upstream to spite my face. It is only my attempt to add to, and open up, the sort of critical dialogue that should inform the way we go about doing cultural studies within CCS.
Thesis 2) There are people, things, moments within the university that are not, as yet, irredeemable.
We vacillate between complaining that the university is a bubble, and refusing to think about that bubble; between understanding it isn’t a bubble, and not knowing how to connect with an outside that is also inside. Every gate says no exit and no admittance except on business. Theory without collective practice is George Bush in a helicopter, detached and perplexed, surveying the destruction down below. It is certainly not the submerged and subversive cartel of insurgents, rebels, terrorists and submariners, cultural or otherwise, that is needed if we are to reclaim the night, and day, from 24/7 finance capital and its rapacious army of Teflon Dom Strauss-Khans.
What I’m arguing is that not enough attention is being paid to what goes on in CCS. We are not really thinking about the ‘study’ of cultural studies. We should be. About how it does and doesn’t work. About how it is and isn’t taught, or the possibility that teaching and learning, when the relationship between the two is signposted as a one way street, is the wrong way to think about it all together. In the absence of a decision about what cultural studies is or should be, we might at least come up with a more tooled up and weaponised way of doing it. Cultural studies as radical pedagogy, as a way of setting about, and setting against, as a way of engendering new collectivities capable of a new Cultural Studies. A lack of pedagogical care, and a laissez faire attitude as to how we set about transmitting and transmuting Cultural Studies is the harbinger of a total defeat. A defeat that will occur unbeknown to most, occluded by the integuments of repetition and habit that continue under the same name and in the same buildings. Cultural Studies should instead be thinking about how to offer safe-harbour, refuge and sustenance to the refugees and runaways of wage-labour. Not so much sending out scouts to find lodgings but fortifying, digging in and creating underground networks.
For a brief moment last year, the university was invigorated by the thought of its own death. Students and Profs exchanged hierarchy points for solidarity credits, discussions started to bear on something, we actually had a discussion about what our collective response might be, Professor’s were outside Millbank, energised by the throng. The being-towards-death of the University flashed up the mirage of transformation, rejuvenation, reinvigoration, revolution, a swing towards the authentic. As we trudged on it vanished completely. Why?
Point three from Goldsmiths’ Mission and valourisation of Value statement gives the clue: ‘Respecting the individual: encouraging individuality and nurturing talent. Enabling freedom of thought and expression.’
Because the bourgeois university is built to breed, and police the borders of, the bourgeois individual. It recognises no other authenticity than the individual in isolation, the only freedom it can imagine is in the life towards death. “Authentic being-towards-death” is the conception of the bourgeois individual who constitutes in the subjected-group. It has forgotten the freedoms to be found in the possibilities of the group subject, the collective ‘I’. Only through this type awareness do we come to that other more enduring authenticity: community, commoning, communism. A revolution that brought about a shift toward latter, in theory, practice, pedagogy, and organisation, is the beginnings of a Cultural Studies that doesn’t need saving, thick as thieves and armed to the teeth.