22 SES 13 A, The University in the Age of Critique (Part 1)
Symposium to be continued in 22 SES 14 A
The university has constantly been under critical scrutiny from its intellectual offspring starting from the Enlightenment age until the contemporary neoliberal university of excellence. It seems that the only point of agreement among the intellectuals concerning the university is that what is happening to the university is wrong, but what exactly is wrong varies in each age. In this paper we start from the various intellectual criticisms of the university and try to find some commonality among them. It is our hypothesis that the target of the critique of the university has always been the institutional form, but that underneath this institutionalisation lies another university as a continuum stretching from the very beginnings of the universitas in the Middle Ages until nowadays. Hence the purpose of this paper is to explore what remains from the university once the institutional form is changed after the process of critique. In order to explore the hidden bedrock of the university upon which all institutional forms were predicated, we propose to use the notion of form of life. This notion appears first in the Life of Students (1915), a short article by Walter Benjamin in which he proposes a definition of academic freedom as the guarantee which makes possible the form of life expressed by the ideas which emerge in the university. In order to trace the articulations of the university form of life, we will use the insights from Agamben's exploration of the form of life in his book The highest poverty (2013) where the form of life as forma vitae is used to describe the Franciscan monastic way of life that functioned outside the law, yet within certain rules which received their meaning only inside the community. Hence we want to analyse the university as a form of life which emerges once we remove the institutional rules, and to describe the tacit forms of agreement which have been present throughout the ages in the European universities. By engaging with Benjamin’s definition of the university as the “creator and guardian of philosophy as a form of community" (Benjamin 1996, p. 43), we will try to articulate the possibility of the university form of life as a particular kind of community, a gathering of masters and students around the text (Illich 1991) which creates its own interpretative community of dissent (Readings, 1996).
Agamben, G. (2013). The highest poverty: Monastic rules and form-of-life. Meridian, crossing aesthetics. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Benjamin, W. (1996). Selected Writings, Vol. 1. Trans. R. Livingstone et al. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard UP. Critchley, S. (2014). What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking? The Undecidable Unconscious: A Journal of Deconstruction and Psychoanalysis, 1(1), 119–133. doi:10.1353/ujd.2014.0002 Illich, I. (1991, September). Text and University: On the Idea and History of a Unique Institution. University of Bremen, Bremen. Masschelein, J., & Simons, M. (2013). The Politics of the University. In T. Szkudlarek (Ed.), Comparative and international education: a diversity of voices: Vol. 28. Education and the political. New theoretical articulations (pp. 107–199). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Readings, B. (1996). The University in Ruins. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
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