28.9.10

Institutional Responsibility

The other day a colleague and I were discussing what to teach in this post-postmodern age, generally agreeing that rehashing the theory-science wars was counterproductive, and that teaching deconstructive critique (as a purely epistemological exercise) was out of steam. See Latour. But I did urge that practicing deconstruction be considered as a still important element of our being instituted, being in institutions, instituted beings. Such play is obnoxious. But I think it important to remember, across Burke's "way of seeing is a way of not seeing" that the institution continues to enforce barriers and boundaries instituted in the late 19th century. For all the talk of postmodernity, the University changed little, if at all, in its expectations and operations.

In preparing for my graduate class tonight on Contemporary Rhetorics, I chose to read Derrida's "University in the Eyes of its Pupils" (in a move toward post-pedagogy, each student was asked to read three different essays related to postmodern theory, their choice). I first read this piece in Thomas Rickert's Institutional Rhetoric course, and I must say it remains my favorite Derrida essay. At one point, Derrida makes an argument that I think succinctly expresses Heidegger/Lyotard/Reading's critique sof an increased technological/efficient/excellent university and Foucualt's arguments for how the increased discursive-institutional dispersion of power complicates resistance. Derrida:

A State power or the forces that it represents no longer need to prohibit research or to censor discourse, especially in the West. It is enough that they can limit the means, can regulate support for the production, transmission, and diffusion. The machinery for this new "censorship" in the broad sense is much more complex and omnipresent than in Kant's day, for example, when the entire problematics and the entire topology of the university were organized around the exercise of royal censorship. Today, in the Western democracies, that form of censorship has almost entirely disappeared. The prohibiting limitations function through multiple channels that are decentralized, difficult to bring together into a system. The unacceptability of a discourse, the noncertification of a research project, the illegitimacy of a course offering are declared by evaluative actions: studying such evaluations is, it seems to me, one of the tasks most indispensable to the exercise of academic responsibility, most urgent for the maintenance of its dignity.

A few posts ago, I made mention to Richard Miller's open ended slow reading, something I would equate with the arguments for post-pedagogy advocated by Byron Hawk and Thomas Rickert. But we have to be ready to fight for such possibilities, because I fear the increasing drive for "excellence" (scare-quoted to summon the specter of Readings) in assessment will not be open to the open-ended and student-directed. It wants teleological ends and directed students. In an atmosphere of accountability and expediency, teachers teach and students learn from teachers--how can students learn and teachers learn from students? I don't think the Power that is will legitimate the impetus of such a question.

But I increasingly feel the call to fight for it.

5 comments:

----- said...

I thought for sure you were going to start talking about a "polyversity" in there for a minute...

I wonder what kind of destruction it's going to take to get the most committed of you deconstructionists to be satisfied that some level of institutionalization and "not seeing" is okay. I mean I'm not making an argument here, really--just wondering. Would a retreat into feudalism do it for you, or is it just anything short of perfect randomization of experience? You must realize that all of the "bourgeois" assumptions of the late 19th century are what make universities and democritized learning possible, right? I mean deconstruction doesn't build anything, right? Am I hearing you correctly?

----- is the new word for "Casey," btw.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Where have I ever said--anywhere--that seeing without not seeing is possible? When have I--ever--claimed we can live and operate without social institutions? When have I--at any point--denied the necessity of the social as imposition and boundary?

----- said...

I must've misunderstood your drift. You spoke about "practicing deconstruction," and I take it you don't just mean whittling away the time in "pure theory," but make deconstruction do the work of changing institutions? As I understand deconstruction, it is capable of "changing" institutions, but only in a kind of negative or destructive way.

I thought you were imagining an alternative to the model of higher education we have now -- and my point is that to imagine an alternative requires construction, not only deconstruction. So you can deconstruct our current model, but if I were in charge, I wouldn't let you call in the wrecking balls until I saw a blue-print for a new way: and the new way can't come from deconstruction.

So: do you have an idea for a model that's not based on 19th century forms? I'd be interested to hear. Sorry if I misunderstood you there.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

What started as a response turned into my next post.

----- said...

Happens to the best of us.