Monday, February 25, 2008

behind enemy lines: dispatches from the academy

A College Morning

The face in the mirror awoke to another day, and we waded from the mists of sleep as birds and raindrops greeted the grey morning. We, because I has this implication of togetherness, of being centered and collected. A morning like many others but not like every other. There was delicious air and exquisite texture to the sounds, yes, but the freedom tasted rather strange. It was difficult to swallow. But we did alright, basically because we could afford to, or because we were telling ourselves that we could.

It’s interesting how the microcosm reveals the macrocosm: Beautiful, intelligent and passionate youth are mired in black wholes of abstractions which infect their beauty, intelligence and passion, and they know it better than anyone! Irresistably attractive, yet almost revolting, alas! Yes, this is our pet duality of the day, and we pendulum (into the pit) between attraction and disgust, for these youth are only puzzled into being a piece of a much larger puzzle: the college. And worse, the student. What a pretentious title! Is it any wonder we’re all neurotic? Sure, to make study an occupation belittles the reality that everyone is a student. But there is some truth to it; we are occupied, colonized by our studies, and the nature of our learning infects the education we achieve. And since we are here we are we and no longer I, because hypocrisy is enforced schizophrenia, and hypocrisy is prerequisite to survival nowadays.

So what are we doing? What are our visions? The abolition of institutionalized learning? We are getting to know the enemy a little better. We are holding our breath and noses against the fantasy contagion. (When you live in a total fantasy it is very difficult to not be a total fantasy yourself.) We are constantly reminding ourselves with a subversive smile that we are inside enemy lines. There is much to be learned here, if one only knows that what can be studied is not just the subjects being taught. We take notes on what kinds of questions are being asked, what kind of answers are being given. Teachers -- are they still comrades, or have they fallen asleep? And these other students -- how serious are they? Are they infected with the fantasy, or are they fellow spies, here to work together beyond the system?

Most likely they are something like us, fighting to stay afloat and maintain integrity in spite of privilege, schizophrenic and pathologically intellectual. But we are learning, and we can see what doors are open, what doors could be built, or destroyed. We can be strong -- we must be, if we are going to survive, as students. As students we take part in a long tradition of learning and lifestyle. Might we have some surprises for that history? Might we have a history of our own? If so, we must have courage and creativity and humor and love for eachother. If we are going to be serious about rocking this barge of studies and students, at times it will take all of each of us.

Perhaps it is pointless, or vapid, or impossible. But we are willing to try a little longer, at least for now. We will be students our whole lives, but now we are Students; shouldn’t we have a little diligent fun with it, turn it upside-down and plant some flowers in its arse?


Like pigs at a trough of indulgent insecurity we wallowed in our powerlessness and called it privilege, right in spite of ourselves.

College. Some called it a hell hole, some a prison of pillows, most probably preferred not to think of it at all, and there were plenty of distractions to help with that. But in the end we were too clever not to, which is why we called it names instead of escaping it or reinventing it.


we attack the college

we attack the college, and all parts of us that reflect the college!
we feverishly eschew every remnant of them! we will take no part in their machinations.
ah, seed of moloch, fertile soil of conceit and cynicism,
ah, nurture of moloch, diligent delinquency, drooling discipline and confident confusion,
ah, counterinsurgency of moloch, mother and child of the vanguard! give it your life and let it become you!
and yet why should you go to college? Because it takes one to know one. Who could know how to sabotage a school better than a student? No amount of flames could destroy these institutions which are essentially ideas, -- only new and better ideas can do that.
who wants to be the Ned Lud of the university, of the vanguard, besides everybody?
Now, or maybe never.
we attack the college, but I swear it is in self defense, and in defense of the future, which this present holds hostage, ransomed for the end of our privileges.
Charge! Or have we already?
scribbled in bathroom stalls, spoken subtly and often unnoticed in classes, whispered into ears in cafeterias and in beds, in notes slipped under doors and in stencils on buildings, ideas are spreading, growing, maturing, getting louder and bolder. something has to give or be given.
the idea of a monkeywrench thrust deep into the gears of theory,
the idea of a fuse of organization to explode and escape the reign of the moloch cocktails,
the idea of poison, poured through the rotten teeth of the vanguard,
the idea of courage, to save us from the jaws of complicity,
the ideas of deep obligation and commitment, to transcend the pretty call of homework,
the idea of combustion alone can keep us warm as we tread through the eerie chill of this luxurious submission we call student life.


A few thoughts about “The Making of a College 2.0”

1. Ahem. We are not a computer program. We are not zeroes and or ones, and we’d rather not be cogs in any kind of machine. Excuse me, but what is this all about? Are some administrative bureaucrats envious of our presumed freedom? Are they lonely? In order to justify their cubicle existence do they seek to make the students and faculty reflect their machine logic, and turn us into programmed mechanisms as well?

They’re very clever. The “2.0” is a piece of subtle manipulative propaganda designed to make us believe that there was or is a 1.0; that in fact we are already gears in the computer technocracy of industrial education. It’s a scam.

But you can’t con a con. We know to be wary of gifts from Greek scholars, Ralph. “The Making of a College” is a Trojan horse charging at windmills across the computer screens that are at the center of our virtual community. We aren’t fooled.

But we certainly can’t let any of our legitimate disgust and resentment at this transparent ploy justify any complacency. The college industrial complex will grow and assimilate us commensurate to our inability to create powerful alternatives.

2. You can’t create community on a computer. The centrality of the computer in the process of revisioning this college reveals the lack of commitment in the current non-community to a substantive restructuralization of the institution.

Aside from voluntary and poorly publicized discussion groups without any decision making power, our participation in “the making of the college” is to take place entirely in the isolation of a computerized interaction. Instead of gathering in planned or spontaneous community action groups, we are invited to sail the cyber seas of discussion boards and email list serves. We are being offered a virtual community with a praxis of alienation at its core. We are even invited to participate anonymously! A community of anonymity -- provocative, perhaps, but in experience, sterile. The face of the community they are selling us is a screen, and it’s a sell out.

Don’t buy it. Turn off the computer. Find fresh air.

3. If this college is at a turning point, then our work is to keep it that way.

The notion of Hampshire as moving from one state of the past to another of the future is an double myth. Tasting the second lie, we forget that we have already swallowed the first. When an administration presents us with the idea of an opportunity to change from one state of equilibrium to another, there are a variety of things we must ask ourselves. Do we desire a state of equilibrium, or even any state at all? As the saying goes, if it’s humiliating to be ruled, how degrading is it to choose your masters? Why accept any single system of mastery? Especially when it comes to institutions, we must prevent the equilibrium.

It is vital to participate in the making of this college, but it is simultaneously essential to make sure that it never gets made. If the process ever crystalizes, then dialectic becomes dogma. When we surrender spontaneity for security, dialogue loses its dignity. No matter what state you live in you’re governed.

3a. Both the concepts and the practices of sustainability are desperately essential in the world today. This cannot be overstated; if issues of overconsumption, waste, depletion and pollution are not immediately addressed, our survival as societies, institutions and individuals is uncertain at best. To this end the criteria of sustainability must be both an imminent and transcendent part of our communal and individual lives. The physical campus of Hampshire would benefit greatly from a commitment to this awareness.

But to apply the same principles and practices of sustainability to the administrative and academic schema of an institution is a leap of incoherent faith. Ideological claptrap. A crap shoot. Let’s be clear about that.

If institutions aren’t constantly changing, evolving, dying and resurrecting to reflect changing realities and desires, they become dinosaurs. Powerful and dangerous.

A thoroughly articulated and codified institution is exogenous; it is out of control; regardless of who is at the wheel it drives itself.

Confronted with the motive (disguised as opportunity) to articulate and codify Hampshire, what can or should one do? Well, we can start with recognizing what not to do.

When confronted with a dogmatism, if we defend ourselves with another dogma we are dogs, either eating from the hands that hold our leashes or at best barking over the right to exchange one domesticity for another.

Permanence is impossible, and deadly when attempted. Innovation upsets equilibrium.

Okay, ya basta for a moment. Enough theory.
Do we really want to live in a community here?
It’s a serious question, because community means
Yes, if we want to live in any kind of meaningful community, we will have to sacrifice time and energy and probably many of the alienations that we are accustomed to calling privileges. If we don’t recognize this, we will continue indefinitely to feign surprise at racist graffiti and theft and sexual assault for years to come. These solvable problems will persist commensurate to our unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifices of time and energy required to solve them.
Community is all about compromise, and on this point we must be uncompromising.

No amount of pizza and no number of “meetings” in lecture halls lead from the inverse panopticon of a podium will ever create a community. It is foolish and pessimistic about humanity to imagine that they ever would.
What brings people together is exhilaration! Fatigue!
Collective accomplishments and communal sacrifices! Shared ecstasies and collaborative struggles!
But not only these.
Just as important in a community is the so-called drudgery of daily life.
Absent the responsibility to take care of ourselves, I feel that our discussion of community is pretentious, empty and naive.

So in the dorms we could start by cleaning the bathrooms ourselves. We could carry out our own fucking trash. We could all work our way down the reality ladder out of our fantasy specializations until we are cooking all the food, washing all the dishes, maintaining the grounds, working at the farm, growing our own food, and providing public security for each other instead of relying on contracted cops to mediate our conflicts. These responsibilities would undoubtedly give us greater depth and perspective in our academic education. Then we could begin to discuss a community with some of credibility.

Do we really want to live in a community here?
I’m down, but only if you are too.

P.S. (practical afterthoughts to a discussion group)
1. In regards to 'Why choose Hampshire?' and how to “regain our innovative foothold”, I would like to suggest that Hampshire should emphasize and encourage RADICAL POLITICS, and maintain a COMMITMENT TO REMAINING AND THRIVING AT THE MARGIN. I think that Hampshire would benefit from a collective courage and conviction to STAY EXPERIMENTAL.

2. Sometimes you hear people say things like, “It is irresponsible to ask a student what they want, particularly when the student is not prepared; the system needs to steer student’s energy." (I am not making this up.)

My experience leads me to believe almost precisely the opposite: It's irresponsible NOT to ask students what they want, and student's energy should steer, if not entirely create, the system.

3. In regards to the website, catalogs and the academic admissions department, I would interject that this is not the place to invest limited energy. There is an absolute proliferation of paper generating bureaucracies at every college in the world. Universities of spectacles and commodities are meticulously crafted to satisfy societies of commodities and spectacles. The emphasis is on manufacturing and selling an image. The reality gets lost and contaminated in the wake.

I'd like to see the capital that goes into selling the community be put into making the "community" itself at least a little less spurious. NON SATIS VENDERE.

Finally, I'd just like to reassert that I think Hampshire's [latent] potential lies in and with radical politics, and that ABOVE ALL, as students, faculty, staff and administration, we should aspire towards constructing an institution with a social purpose, commitment and accountability.

from the mods of North West Hampshire
October 2007

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