[iDC] Defending UC

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Mon Sep 26 22:33:12 UTC 2011

On 09/26/2011 04:09 PM, Blake Stimson wrote:

> What adopting Adorno's old dialectical guideline would mean for us is
> mostly just the even older idea of immanent critique. Put
> schematically, we might say that the DIY higher ed movement (if we
> can call it that) has been valuable in critiquing the implicit and
> explicit role of the state in higher education from the
> entrepreneurial perspective of the market... [snip]... however, we might
> also be mindful of the immanently-critical role of the state and
> defend it as an ideal.

That's the way I see it - except maybe you're too schematic, and you 
should accord the DIY approach not only a market-based identity, because 
that would exclude a whole lot of projects that have nothing to do with 
Phoenix or Bill Gates. The social struggle is over how to transform the 
institutions in a period of crisis, and the problem I see on our side -- 
the side that believes in the state provision of funds for public 
institutions -- is the widely held Democratic or left-liberal assumption 
that all we have to do is just fend off the worst of the budget cuts. I 
say no, that approach has failed, there are too many grievances and too 
much cynicism to sustain the appeals to liberal humanist values 
supposedly incarnated in the university as it is. In careful theory I 
agree with you that the problem is one of partial corruption, but if 
there is no action from both within and without, the fast-approaching 
future is corruption. Which would take the form of an entirely 
entrepreneurialized society interlocking with a military/police state. 
You can see that future taking form on the UC campuses already.

So, OK, let's move forward. If we agree that the corruption is partial, 
but pervasive and highly threatening -- and we seem to agree, I'm glad 
of it, these exchanges are valuable -- then the urgent question is how 
to mobilize society around a new ideal that can carry the best of the 
old order into genuinely egalitarian institutions? Not only does every 
critique have to have a destructive moment, but more importantly, every 
political change has to have a social movement behind it. Otherwise it's 
another passive revolution led by the top, which in our time means it's 
going to lead to a nasty future.

I'd say the demand of an immanent or situated critique is double:

--First, identify and actively protest all the forces contributing to 
the elimination of affordable, class and color-blind public education;
--Second, forge and communicate the vision of a public education that 
does not serve the neoliberal class society and police/military state.

As far as I can tell, the first prong has not gone near far enough. The 
UC strikes and related movements throughout the States and the world did 
give rise to a theoretical indictment of adminstrative salaries, 
corporate funding, sumptuary expenses on sports and other facilities, 
the application of entrepreneurial metrics, and last but not least, the 
gross imbalance between adjuncts and tenure-track professors. But those 
initial movements have not, to my knowledge (and I would love to hear 
the contrary!), created a sustained mobilization inside the salaried 
ranks of the American institutions and that's the order of the day, 
imho. I actually don't understand why this has not happened, but if the 
relative privilege of salaried faculty is not an explanation, why then, 
all that has to be done is to launch more vigorous protest and there 
will be a lot of suppport for that. It would seem that intellectuals do 
have to risk something, however.... Otherwise the whole liberal 
Democratic or theoretically situationist or crypto-communist or whatever 
sort of leftward-leaning posture that people are holding is just hollow.

Point two is another big problem: the vision thing. We don't see much of 
it. Maybe Elizabeth Losh has more to say on this angle, she already made 
important points. To communicate an egalitarian vision means laying 
aside the competition within your disciplinary specialization in order 
to find languages that can communicate across class divides and cut 
through the simplfying rhetorics of Perry and the like, which you 
rightly point to as a danger. Convincing two dozen other readers of a 
specialized journal that they need another footnote in order to climb up 
the ranks is just not gonna do it. From this regard the DIY people, Anya 
included, have something to offer -- or they would have, if there was 
something to receive in return. How can universities become more 
permeable to society again? How can their resources filter out to wider 
numbers of users? What is the use-value of a university in a knowledge 
society? These questions are urgent. Without answers, delivered in 
languages that many different kinds of people can understand, we will 
have continued functionalization of the universities through the type of 
center-left/extreme right compromise that passes for politics under Obama.

Once I was a PhD candidate spouting Derridean concepts in California. 
Then I was an art critic channeling Guattari in France. Then I was an 
anti-globo activist chanting Negri wherever there was a chance to 
protest about financial capitalism. You learn as you go, and there's a 
method to this madness. Now I'm trying to write about the 1930s for an 
autonomous seminar on economic crises in North America. The method is 
called: get constructively political.

solidarities, Brian

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