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Higher education in the 1990s.

I want to describe an important if obvious tension in the university today. The pressure to modify the openness of American society, coming from those who say that an unthinking or unrestricted cultural relativism will damage education and so jeopardize, if not the state directly then the quality of citizenship we bring to it, is countered by those who claim that this openness is either inadequate or a sham, and that racial, cultural, and gender-based exclusions continue to keep a sizable proportion of citizens from their rightful place in the social order.

Despite this conflict we enjoy, on the level of theory, an American consensus about the ends of higher education and its contribution to civil society. What Robert Hutchins said about the University of Utopia, in a clear and courageous little book published in the midst of the McCarthy era, is as relevant today as then: his remarks on a fearless "philosophical diversity" within a single theory of education (derived from principles of academic freedom) can still be useful, even if the pressure on the universities comes at this time more from within than from state agencies. It is exerted mainly by teachers, or a changing student body that speaks for those excluded from the social covenant and sometimes, in effect, from equality before the law. Hutchins's emphasis on discussion and conversation, and his rejection of advocacy teaching ("indoctrination"), are close to absolute:

In Utopia a professor is a citizen and as a citizen may engage in any activity, public or private, in which any other citizen may legally engage. The reason why the law sets the limits of a citizen's conduct is that the Utopians are determined that those limits shall not be set by the shifting prejudices of the times. They see no alternative but the law. The real academic crime is indoctrination, which is only slightly worse in Utopia than the crime of refusing to discuss. For these crimes a Utopian professor can be removed after a hearing by the academic body. I am told that the sentence of removal, followed by the ceremony of disgowning, is often visited upon a Utopian professor for trying to indoctrinate his students with the principles upon which the Utopian Constitution is genuinely based in the common opinion and for failing to cooperate with his colleagues in bringing other interpretations of the Constitution and of the common opinion to the student's attention. The Utopian professor is supposed to have convictions, the deeper the better. He is not supposed to pump and pound them into his students, even though his opinions are shared by the overwhelming majority of the population.(1)

There are problems, however, with this visionary blueprint. First, the unrestricted conversation propounded by Hutchins here and in similar books, while it helped to create a body of liberal opinion about the democratic process and its ideal of "communicative action" (Habermas), did not sufficiently move that process or communication itself toward a largely disenfranchised group, which has grown since then because of a liberalized immigration policy. Ethnic movements, and also the new feminism, have made their claims and gains after, rather than because of, Hutchins.

The second problem is that, as Hutchins indicates, the "civil religion" (a later term) embedded in the constitution of Utopia forbids itself - unlike other religions - to inculcate a conviction it takes for granted. Doubt about itself is tolerated, even methodically practiced; the disbelief of others toward its position is tolerated; all to keep faith in free discussion alive. But cultural relativism (including a dramatic increase in historical knowledge and images communicated directly through modern media) has raised the issue of whether any society can be just, and whether ours, then, is really preferable. Justification moves from the religious to the social sphere. In an increasing juvenocracy, moreover, the battle for a democratic faith has to be won already in the universities; it is the universities that are under the greatest pressure to transform an ethos of inquiry into one of advocacy or affirmation. How can America's "public philosophy" (Walter Lippman) maintain its hold without indoctrination, or without abandoning that task to nonuniversity agencies whose agenda may be suspect?(2)

The conflict over the canon, or what gets taught in university curricula, should be seen in this context. The call for reinstituting Common Studies, based largely on great books, recognizes that our "attestive gaze" (Yaron Ezrahi) - that is, what we see and credit - is formed by what kinds of experience are thought to be objective, or what testimonles count. Both sides in the controversy (of whether the canon should privilege Western civilization or whether it should favor works that are critical of and even antagonistic to the dominant culture) appreciate the instrumental and determinative force of sociocultural choices.

Both sides are equally uncomfortable, therefore, with such movements as deconstruction, that seek to de-instrumentalize reason or culture. They view this attempt as an evasion of political realities or as a recipe for nihilistic doubt. Even those who argue for an open canon (a contradiction in terms, but expressive of a concern stated as early as the romantics, with Novalis asking, "Who declared the Bible closed?") are instrumentalists. They advocate the inclusion of minority writers as a step toward the inclusion of that minority as a whole.

Yet the argument for great books is not primarily an instrumentalist one: we may read them for self-improvement or urge that they be read for either acculturation or a progressive and even revolutionary end, but there is no certainty that their impact on the individual mind will fall into a niche of that kind. These are books that have provided instruction and enjoyment for reasons that are difficult to pin down and that very fact seems to be part of our pleasure in them. Whatever their ethnic provenance or original commitment, they have accrued a fascinating variorum of meanings. These classics, then, are not representative so much as hermeneutic, while their aesthetic or historical distance from how concern states itself today could stimulate a less constrained debate. The most didactic thing that can be said of them is that as survivor-books they express values that do not (or not without significant traces) repress adversative or adversarial elements. A great novel is distinguished by what Bakhtin called "heteroglossia" even as it illustrates the limits of sympathy in the fictional characters it depicts.

The restitutive aim, moreover, of instrumentalists who wish to open the canon entails more than a plea for inclusion. To find the classics of their own speech, to search the past for these or oblige the present to create them, is complicated by a perception that the dominant culture seems to be preemptive, inhabited by an alien muse. Vernacular artists must therefore win recognition by defining themselves in someone else's terms, even in the language tradition of an alien culture. This is a psychological bind yet also the condition of an achievement whose pattern was set when the European vernaculars sought classical dignity in the Renaissance and began to enrich the dialect of the tribe.

On the contemporary effort to create, for example, a black speech literature, John Edgar Widemann's "Black Fiction and Black Speech" is relevant.(3) That the restitutive aim is more than a demand for inclusion, that it challenges the dominant culture, is seen by Widemann's claim: "black speech is not simply faulty English but a witness to a much deeper fault, a crack running below the surface, a fatal flaw in the forms and pretensions of socalled civilized language." No parallel exists for this critique of civilized language in the Renaissance, where the act of composing vernacular classics was in harmony with the aim of recovering the classics themselves as models to be emulated. There was, at most, a critique of the school learning and intolerance that had suppressed - to the point of losing - a tradition which now appeared more "civilized" than heavily Christian and scholastic works of learning. This critique has its contemporary parallel in Pierre Bourdieu's major point that cultural transmission is - with the growth and centralization of the school system - acculturated transmission. Bourdieu discloses an unacknowledged limit to Hutchins's claim that the university as a pedagogical institution can foster an unrestricted "conversation."

A third problem with Hutchins's blueprint is the change signaled by the label "modern," a change he treated only under the heading of "industrialization." To be an educated citizen should not mean, he thought, being preoccupied with technological progress, even in an industrialized society. He did not mention, however, what writers long before the 1950s were already struggling with: the media and information explosion, or the valuing of "noise." Previously noise had to be removed to let the signal through; now our technological skills are such that we can let an astonishing and deafening number of signals through. Whatever technology will be developed to offset this technology, the individual citizen, the one whose spark or independent thinking we rely on, may be worse off than before. We are burdened by a surnomie that can become an anomie, a bewildering or paralyzing surplus of norms, values, demands, that prompts many to talk of a postmodern condition and to seek refuge from it in the "one thing necessary" to salvation.

The situation is especially confusing in the schools. Students are told that education is memory training, a progressive historical anamnesis in which they participate. Then they are told they must remember to forget, if they are to remain sane. Then that they must never forget that their just society is based on a history of unjust actions, and that they should establish a juster society by bringing to consciousness what has been left out in the official histories. Then that culture and reason are themselves suspect, having led to, or not prevented, two World Wars and the Holocaust. They may also be told to do something about oppression worldwide, to prevent a new genocide, to save the ecology and harness scientific knowledge to a productivity that would benefit everyone instead of concentrating weapons for a nuclear holocaust.

"O," as Dorothy says plaintively in The Wizard of Oz, "I fear we are no longer in Kansas." Nor at the University of Utopia in Chicago, in the late 1940s. But how to proceed from there to here is another matter, which I do not wish to avoid entirely.

Today the consensus for multiculturalism in the American university, especially in its literature and cultural studies departments, is so strong that advocacy teaching has become a normal complement to affirmative action. The complaint is heard that a coercive atmosphere prevails, jeopardizing academic freedom and making it unsafe for scholars to be politically incorrect. Horror stories are circulated about the repressive effects of the new orthodoxy in many universities.

If you give someone a bad conscience, he will turn around and stick you with one. The conservatives complain that the liberal consensus leaves them out. They strike back at the self-righteousness of the left-liberal coalition: and it returns the favor by charging that the conservatives, since they still dominate national policy through the inertia of existing attitudes and institutions, are hypocrites. The plea of those in power and who feel endangered is always that they are powerless. The conservatives mock this reply and argue it is time for those who really determine opinion in the universities to give up the pretense they are powerless. The debate is not very edifying or productive, and both sides are guilty of slander - quite enjoyable at times, given our habitual jargon of civility. But one point made against us "fellow teachers" cannot be passed by. I will reformulate it in terms that do not simply assert, in the conservative manner, a dereliction of duty, but which suggest the depth of an issue centering on the consensus question.

While some conflict between university studies and the world of community standards or civic authority is to be expected, the present situation is particularly troubling. For while academics keep talking to academics, the gap widens in the meantime between those who pursue an ideal of Justice within the university and those who actually influence society by the full spectrum of political activities. It is less the right-wing journals that should bother us than the evidence they bring that the work of university intellectuals is once again seen as self-regarding and abstract - out of touch with the very realities these intellectuals would like to change.

Precisely the university may have failed to achieve a consensus based on quality of consent. Political action there takes place in a protective milieu or through street theater: it no longer respects the implicit contract between society and academy which says that you either work extra muros, on a pragmatic and worldly basis, dedicating yourself to a certain political faith, or you engage in the intellectual equivalent of work by creating a university "space," a forum open to all sides and tolerating debate.

The idea of such a forum is realized in a place like the university campus as well as the moratorium interposed between adolescence and full civic responsibilities. In matters of this complexity, of course, there are no absolutes, only balances: on the one hand, being a student cannot mean renouncing all protest, even on campus; and, on the other, debate in the university is not a free-for-all - the English "Hyde Park" approach would merely inflame or reconfirm every possible prejudice. The purpose of that forum space, of extensive discussion in the at once competitive and nonadversarial frame of university study, is to make sure the facts, texts, arguments, and rules of evidence are adequately known and that participants learn to live with complexities and ambiguities that never go away, whatever decision must be made. We are asked to experience as fully as possible what Hegel called, with a pathos I like, "the suffering and labor of the negative."

The complaint against the politically correct curriculum, or networking for it, comes down to this: the present multicultural consensus is a pseudoconsensus, since the omnes in this consensus omnium share mainly a certain rhetoric but act in an exclusionary or counterexclusionary way. For it is not enough to assert that the integrationist or assimilationist ethos has broken down. The crucial issue remains precisely the same in both the newer and the older political cultures: there is a grave discrepancy between theory and practice, between words and actions.(4) In the new political culture a rhetoric of sympathy for otherness is still accompanied by an intolerance of dissent and the creation rather than elimination of yet another "hegemonic discourse."

What is to be done? We cannot, it is clear, return to the status quo. Yet a fruitless debate over the canon goes on and on, because in an increasingly populist educational structure pressure groups are always forming, so that we face a constant demand to include this or exclude that, to prescribe or proscribe courses or books. We find ourselves in a "parliamentary" situation in which one reading list tends to replace another. The result tends to be confusion rather than diversity. The notion of a core curriculum (sometimes called Common Studies) has such appeal because its sanction comes from a longer-lived consensus and prevents new and even more restricted canons from being imposed.

It is possible, however, that we have exaggerated the static nature of our literary past. Its status may have been more agitated than many would like to believe. It is true that when the Bible, Aristotle, and some classics formed the beginning and often the end of education, and it was dangerous to reject them, opportunities for disagreement were generally restricted to specific matters of interpretation rather than to the specific choice of these books. But as long as precise information on the consensus that formed the canon remained scarce it was possible - though risky - to reenvision the original consensus community or to claim that one still participated in it by direct inspiration. So the Reformers who rebelled against the Catholic church created, by martyrdom if necessary, their own community of "saints." Authority breeds visionary counterclaims when based on a compact sealed in the distant past: the situation today continues to inspire historical fables such as the Black Jesus or Black Moses movements.

Yet another recourse, more subtle than myths of origin, of original community, was available against an imposed consensus. This recourse can still help today. Historically, the canon would have become a dead letter if a principle had not entered derived from the canonical imperative of preserving the letter of the text. This secondary principle was interpretation itself, which does not seek to change those letters but to reinforce their meaningfulness and so to carry them into the future, to maintain the text against historical change and messianic impatience. Saving the text by reinterpreting it produced astonishing creative and intellectual feats that must be classified as commentary as well as art: think of Dante's Commedia or Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons or the Jewish Kabbalah.

Today that secondary principle has become primary(5) and sustains literary work in the university. The desanctification of texts means that the authority of every book hangs in the balance. Interpretation tips the scale and bestows or takes away authority. But the reason canonical books hang on is not only the aesthetic prowess of clever interpreters. Acrobats, clowns, jongleurs entertain, but they don't alter the law they seem to defy. The classic work of art is so hard to discredit because we learn interpretation not from a separate set of rules but primarily from a number of great books set in a commentary tradition which has become their integral rather than adventitious frame. The struggle of commentary upon commentary, Bourdieu writes not without irony, lifts the work "from the state of a dead letter, a mere thing subject to the ordinary laws of ageing, the struggle at least ensures it has the sad eternity of academic debate."(6)

Consider Milton's reputation. Leavis tried to dislodge Milton in the 1930s and some feminists are still dislodging him. Milton survives, not because he is endlessly open to interpretation but because he has become exemplary for interpretation. He teaches the future reader as well as the future poet. Lycidas saved the pastoral tradition when a new reality had made an older type of poetic speech seem obsolete. The special case of pastoral became linked to something general: the case of poetry. Not the fate of pastoral alone but the fate of poetry was in the balance: a strange, older speech showed its life through Milton's erudite intervention.

There is a parallel between Milton's effort to maintain poetry and the strain of theory in critics like Cleanth Brooks who opened the canon for modern verse. Learned improvization, whether by poet or critic, is a crucial technique for saving texts. Yet there are those who make genius into a mystery, a force of nature that subverts the intellectual reclamation I have been describing. Despite the fact that popular art absorbs, or even steals, a lot of traditional material, there is an ideological temptation to link genius to a mysterious and liberating energy; this dangerous move leads me to a further historical and cautionary observation.

I want art to survive as more than an advertisement for a particular product, even the product called democracy. I therefore support art's claim to a certain independence, call it authenticity or autonomy or creative mystery. This claim, nevertheless, makes me anxious because, reinforced by notions of sublimity or the genius-idea, it was appropriated rather easily by fascism. The sublime experience allows the mind to rebound after a moment of ravage or depression and feel potentiated and freer than before; in cultural politics, however, this sense of exaltation and power can be used against the freedom of the individual. The genius-idea, mixing with identity politics, can underwrite, as in fascism, a virulent and delusive theory of national culture.

To understand the bind of politically progressive criticism it is useful to return to the romantic period, which linked the sublimity of art - le sacre du poete - to the greatness of particular national cultures. Before that time the notion of sublimity had served as a safety valve for neoclassical decorum. This decorum held that feelings had their own restricted economy and should not be burdened beyond measure. Cultural pluralism would have seemed utterly unrealistic, because human sympathy, though not the imagination, was thought to have clear limits. The rationale behind this decorum was very different from the bravado of Blake's famous proverb of hell: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."

Yet neoclassicism's limitary attitude existed side by side with a vivid sense of the sublime that obliged writers like Edmund Burke to distinguish it from the beautiful, and other social virtues. Though embarrassed by the felt power of the sublime, as by the originality and unruliness of genius, they acknowledged its presence. A description had to be found for the impact of this force on human affairs. The pressure of the sublime (or what Goethe named the daemonic) on the sociable, like that of power on freedom, culminated in the poetry of the romantics. Holderlin in his difficult odes, Blake's Prophetic Books, Shelley in "Mont Blanc," and "Visitings of Imaginative Power" described by Wordsworth, created an art that could not be fully socialized, even when artists like Wordsworth wished its isolating and radicalizing aura to be redeemed that way.

As late romantics - and progressive critics - we are attempting the impossible: instead of acknowledging a tension between art and social forms, we pretend we can normalize or instrumentalize art's charisma, transgression, wildness, innovation; we bestow an apriori acceptance on these qualities, and insist on a focus so broadly emphatic, so open on principle, that the sublime becomes an abstract and spasmodic technique, a routinized ecstasy, a mere flicker of itself like the photographically distorted grimacings of MTV's perpetual danse macabre.

It can be argued that this sustained death rattle of the sublime, these fantastic gothic formulas that cannibalize so much contemporary art, are a specifically American kind of sublime rather than its terminal contortion. American cultural practice, according to this view, has outstripped that of the Old World, which is still struggling to "waste" the sublime from above - that is, by way of theory. Charles Olson leads the way with his unparalleled description of European high culture as "a great shitting from the sky"; and Camille Paglia, playing Madonna to the academic establishment, celebrates the absence, the energetic bypass in American popular culture, of anxiety-ridden, sclerotic distinctions between high and low. Our "rude, vital, brassy" phase that reached its apogee in the 1960s does not need, according to Paglia, the faddish academic radicalism of Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida. Deconstruction does something quite unnecessary in America when it "systematically trashes high culture by reducing everything to language and then making language destroy itself."(7)

Yet Paglia's avid brilliant hyperbole and self-identification with a generation that "put the myth of Dionysus into action" simply acts out what she herself describes as "our problem": "not repression but regression ... the constant eruption of primitivism, of anarchic individualism" (33). Seeking by her prose to compete with the beat of rock and rap (somewhat like Henry Miller in his jazzy expectorations of what she underplays as a "defunct modernism" [29]), Paglia falls for a progressive-regressive paradigm without understanding its ghoulishly devouring demand on even the most capable and liberated sensibilities.

My point is not the degeneracy of art and literary theory or their loss of function in the society in which they must exist. It is the continuing necessity of criticism as a disintoxicant as well as a creative player. Even Alvin Kernan's The Death of Literature and Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind are useful: a countertradition comes into view whose focus is the limit upon which democratic ideals have bruised themselves. The scholarly equivalent of satirical novels about academia, they remind us of that countertradition. Not our potentially infinite humanity is assumed but ... human finitude.

I have tried to suggest the complex cultural and political pressures on the university of what is called, variously, historicism, relativism, perspectivism, pluralism, multiculturalism. Yet my effort has something of a contemplative smell to it; it is not a brief supporting a case, or an opinion rationalizing a decision. I would defend that contemplative procedure: by reviewing the past, by reading precedential works, we do not distance ourselves from the urgency of the moment but rather define where we are in relation to issues and positions that recur. I take it that one of the urgent questions for the university in the 1990s must be: when does the insistence on ethnicity become productive, and when counterproductive?

The question, you may think, is an impossible one, because it would be answered differently, even divisively, depending on whether one belongs to a community still seeking to present its ethnic credentials or to an established group. Yet if a general agreement exists on what is productive a conversation can take place. I think there is such an agreement and want to state it as follows. The insistence on ethnic factors intends to further autonomy in both the psychological and cultural sense of the word: the fullest development of each person/family within the community, and of the community within a multicultural state. I assume, at the same time, that we are not in a "Balkan" situation, where ethnic groups are striving for political independence through secession.

Even though this definition of a common aim is not conceptually precise - it does not pause to ask who is a person, what is meant by a community, what is autonomy - if you respond to the definition something is gained. Instead of the word autonomy, which I use here in the Kantian sense of an ideal situation, in which individuals feel that the laws of the state or the rules of society are their laws and rules, in their interest rather than somebody else's - instead of autonomy, then, you could use words from the Declaration of Independence citing the right of every citizen to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Let me start with what is counterproductive. Counterproductive, in my view, is the pressure within each group for ideological conformity or an outright profession of loyalty. This would make the group a cult rather than a culture-bearer. It is important that the group tolerate bystanders who are neutral or still in a reflective stage, that it not force acts of witness from its members. The tendency toward the compulsory profession of loyalty was a factor that eventually drove Nazi Germany into a warlike mentality; in wartime loyalty must be close to unconditional. Coming to power the National Socialists introduced a Bekenntnis mystique that politicized scholarship and discouraged free inquiry. Bekenntnis (confession of loyalty) determined Erkenntnis (cognition and knowledge acquired through scholarship). Relativity theory was despised because a Jew, Einstein, had formulated it. Everything Jewish was denounced as abstract rather than vital, as injurious to the day-to-day concerns of the New German ethnic community, the Volkslemeinschaft.

Counterproductive also is a confusion between ethnic and racial. Nazi Germany is again the extreme and cautionary, though far from exclusive, instance. (I have no wish to identify the present with the past.) The Germans knew perfectly well that they were genetically and culturally a mixed bag. But instead of simply urging a restitutive inward turn, or an anticosmopolitan stance (suasions dangerous enough), Nazi philosophy, through no less than two ministries, promulgated a deliberate fiction. It claimed that there was an Aryan character type, and that the Aryan was exclusively the creative force among all ethnic strains.(8)

Mere assertion, however, can only do so much, even when the future rather than the past is appealed to. Aryan purity was presented as a project, a political fiction that had reconstructive power, not only for Germany but for the world. "Today Germany, tomorrow the world." This appeal to the future erased a mixed and humiliating past or explained it away by race pollution and the conspiracy of nations lower in the racial scale against the dominance of Germany. This so-called Weltanschauung had nevertheless to find philosophical backing. It did so by resorting to the genius-idea: genius, the argument held, could not be reduced to rule because it acted in harmony with an unknown law of nature. It was not imitative but foundational and nomothetic. (This was an important romantic idea, supporting art's inarticulate reason, its differend as Lyotard names it.) Transferred to the corporate and mystical base of the Volksgemeinschaft, genius was then identified exclusively with the Aryan character type, becoming thus not only ethnocentric but also racist. The boast that the Germans were a Kulturvolk of Denker und Dichter (Thinkers and Creators), which contributed to the greatest massacre of modern times, found its support in this nationalization of creativity.

Turning more directly to what is productive, it would seem that just as the general culture must be acquired or reacquired through university study, so must the particular culture of ethnic groups. We are not in a traditional society where ethnicity is everywhere handed down through the family and its close coordination with social practices. The university is essential as a place of learning to recover a heritage that was interrupted or marginalized, as well as to study the history and literature of other cultures and ethnology generally.

Here we encounter, at the same time, campus activism. How productive of autonomy is it to spend time at college this way? Many students and teachers feel that the extension of ethnic consciousness to every sphere of life, to every aspect of the university, is called for. With my question I do not look for a yes or no but want to stimulate an analysis of the university as a social structure somewhat offside to society, or to the achievement of specific social reforms. The situation is complicated by the fact that the university is itself not of one type. European universities are different from each other as well as from the American academy; in the United States, moreover, we have a variety of institutes of higher education: community, city, state, and private colleges.

In all of these, however, a contradiction is present which may be anthropologically founded rather than peculiarly American. University study is liminal in Van Gennep's sense: according to this great ethnographer the candidate who is tested by initiatory "rites of passage" must be provisionally separated from his social group before being accepted in (aggregated) once more. So the academy, I suggest, inserts a second latency period at the very point when adolescent and social identity pressures reach a flash point. It is a latency period vis-a-vis social obligations yet an arousal period vis-a-vis the intellectual development of the candidate. This sends a mixed signal. Anthropologically it is a time for separating from family and group, a time to go into the wilderness or through a deliberately induced danger period. But the academy converts this time into a "moratorium" to allow a protected and structured stage of development away from home. The contradiction that besets university life as an institutionalized rite of passage lies in the fact that in traditional societies rituals of initiation expose the young person to powerful demons in the absence of social mediations, while in a university setting the danger of direct exposure is modified by a protective system. This protection guarantees (and often helps to pay for) an "academic freedom" in which unorthodox as well as traditional knowledge may be pursued. There is bound to be confusion, then, when the threshold separating society and university is crossed by campus reformers who protest against the society affording them protection and tolerating their liminal status. It is unclear, in short, whether universities, as presently organized, are in fact the ideal places to learn about either (intellectual) freedom or (social) obligation.(9)

Yet they remain for the time being the best chance we have for promoting independence of mind while training the young for specific social roles. The change since the late 1960s is that it has become harder to separate university study as a learning opportunity, in which particular ethnic cultures become an important field, from a protest movement affirming descent cultures within an institution seen as predominantly hostile - as a stepmother rather than an alma mater. And when learning fails to separate itself from activism the result is omnipolitics. Everything is then subjected to a political test, including the curriculum.

As long as the general culture is not neglected or falsified, these intensities are for the good. They enact collectively a hermeneutics of suspicion directed toward the general culture, its covert assumptions or universalized standards, its smugness or ingrained xenophobia. But if the culture is perceived only as hostile, the motive for learning about it is pretty well destroyed. Activism will then increase that learning-disincentive and substitute a negative conviction for scholarship. A situation is created in which there is no call for a temporary suspension of judgment or for comparative study that would restrain such dispiriting labels as repressive, racist, patriarchal, colonialist, and so on. The activism coming from the right wing is equally unhelpful: blindly affirmative of the status quo it also encourages labeling rather than thoughtful criticism. It confuses the questioning of common beliefs with subversion, forgetting Emerson's "We suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately" (Experience). One could also quote these eloquent words from Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia: "To see more clearly the confusion into which our social and intellectual life has fallen represents an enrichment rather than a loss. That reason can penetrate more profoundly into its own structure is not a sign of intellectual bankruptcy. Nor is it to be regarded as intellectual incompetence on our part when an extraordinary broadening of perspective necessitates a thoroughgoing revision of our fundamental conceptions."

Most of the time it is not the general culture which is being criticized, for what students know of it is too sparse or disheartening: they see injustice around them, and they react accordingly. The general culture in its complexity and historical variety may even escape being explored for a usable past. Wishing to hold reality and justice in one thought, and having limited time, in the university, to do so, we are in danger of turning both reality and justice into very partial concepts.

(1) Robert Hutchins, The University of Utopia (Chicago, 1953), pp. 95-96. (2) So the Christian Broadcasting Network and the National Legal Foundation (Pat Robertson, founder and director of both) distribute copies of the Constitution "to effect a common legal philosophy designed to reclaim the rule of law in the U.S." (3) John Edgar Widemann, "Black Fiction and Black Speech," in Writers Speak: America and the Ethnic Experience, ed. Jules Chametzky (Amherst, Mass., 1984), pp. 24-39. (4) The issue of "performativity," in regard especially to academic theory or discourse, has been raised cogently by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in such articles as "Socratic Raptures, Socratic Ruptures: Notes Toward Queer Performativity," in English Inside and Out: The Places of Literary Criticism, ed. Susan Gubar and Jonathan Kamholtz (New York, 1993), pp. 122-36. My argument concerning the character of university "space" is very different from hers: she argues that there is a utopian element in the deconstruction of that space, in challenging students to break it down or to become aware of how it encourages mere (nonperformative) discourse, while I suggest that utopia has already entered into the construction and maintenance of that space, which must perforce remain precarious, at risk vis-a-vis conformist social pressures but also internal tensions, exemplified by Sedgwick's own position and agenda. (5) In some influential cases, however, both principles are active. When Harold Bloom recreates the Biblical documentary source called "J" in his The Book of J (New York, 1990), he speculates on its historical origin as well as reinterpreting it in the light of certain modern writers like Kafka. (6) Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (Cambridge, 1993), p. 111. (7) Camille Paglia, "Ninnies, Pedants, Tyrants and Other Academics," New York Times Book Review, 5 May 1991, p. 29; hereafter cited in text. (8) Hitler's declarations in Mein Kampf, though based on nothing but declarative whim, became dogma. "What we today see before us of human culture, events in art, scholarship or technology, is almost exclusively the creative project of the Aryan." Goring, in justifying the Nuremberg racial laws, adds a religious twist. "God created the races. He did not intend equality.... There is no such thing as equality. We ... must fundamentally reject it in our laws and pledge ourselves [bekennen] to the purity of the race as established by providence and nature." See Das Dritte Reich und seine Denker: Dokumente, ed. Leon Paliakov and Josef Wulf (Berlin-Grunewald, 1959), pp. 5, 7. (9) The young in the inner city have less home-protection, but the relative security of university life is therefore all the more crucial for them. In their case too the protective structure is exposed to stress. A sense of having achieved maturity against terrible odds can make it more difficult to accept without challenge a protected status based on a second or extended latency. Those whose childhood has been curtailed by social circumstances may not only require more catch-up time; they may also fight this need in order to maintain self-reliance and a degree of separation from the general culture.
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Title Annotation:Papers from the Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change
Author:Hartman, Geoffrey H.
Publication:New Literary History
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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