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Posted by Rainer Ganahl on February 19, 1997 at 23:35:01:

Sande Cohen, Academia and the Luster of Capital, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 1993 - soft cover - below 20 $

Bill Readings, The University in Ruins, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, 1996 - hard cover - over 20 $

These two books - or somehow the subject they engage with - I would like to suggest for discussion here.

SANDE COHEN is somebody who teaches at CALarts in California.
He impressed me a very profound way which didn't keep me from engaging in an argument with him abusing my status as a mere visitor. First - and all I say about him is somehow also true for his book - he seems to be the product of a lot of Frankfurt School reading and therefore tries to turn against it very hard... but once this kind of critical virus is injected there is no real way to escape since language has become dense and lose, condensed and lost in aggressive reflexivity. So when I saw him acting in front of the black board to his art kids I was wondering what they were supposed to understand. But as a matter of fact understanding wasn't really demanded since he understood himself that he is dealing with a discursive luggage that doesn't communicate really. And yet he tried. My impression and sympathy for him could be best cut short in a lame sentence: what a dinosaur of a far too expensive and too difficult education that nobody is interested in anymore since they don't turn people into consumers.

Second - he calls himself an 'EX-Historian' - and in a way, he seems to practice it..... though for my understanding, he just pretends not to be one.. he very well remembers things and impressed with a rich texture of historical and theoretical knowledge. But of course this is not the point here. What really taught me a lesson was his attack of Habermas in regard to the Historikerstreit - the dispute over German's past that was argued in the 80s between really right wing forces and Habermas. To what extend the Final Solution should be looked at in a 'final' way or not. As I only knew about the pro and contra of the way it was discussed in Germany, I had difficulty to understand Cohen's argument against Habermas, who was speaking up for the singularity of the German situation that couldn't be made into 'just history' as one next to and comparable with other destructive histories. If I understand him well, Cohen wanted to get rid of history with its authoritarian historiography since it perpetuates a victim discourse that is limiting for Jewish people.

Now, in this book he targets academia from many very interesting angles:
It starts strategically very well: "Even a critic as skeptical as Edward Said succumbs to the temptation of university, academic, employment: the university's self-legitimations stand unchallenged"....

He speaks out his disire for "open universities, universities that are not closed societies, riddled with the override judgments of political affiliation ... and their attendant socializations...". As already very well expressed in the title, the "academic thing" is very much criticized for the "luster of capital"... with subtitles like: "Culture and University: Gravest Doubts"; "Undoing Academic Benevolence"; "Standard of Living and Academic Ideals"; "Superstars: Myth and Science".


BILL READINGS died very young in an airplane accident before his book went into print. It is also a brilliant book and a wonderful attack on the university system. Bill readings worked in Canada where the school system is less 'Americanized' then in the USA. So his reflections goes along in the tradition of European ideals of university. He uses the Humboldt model in which the state grants university a certain kind of autonomy and independence. From here he developed a very interesting critic of the "university of excellence" which is a university à la US 15.000 - 20.000 $ schools, where everything is great (excellent) - even criticism. Criticism and thinking is much more a function of a TNC kind of enterprise where selling and student numbers seem to be the only raison d'être.

The problem with his book starts when one looks into the history of the model he seems to defend so much: the state university with its ideology which he seems to ignore. And as a matter of fact these 'state apparatuses' (not just Althussers called them like this, already Fichte and Humboldt did) are very problematic as well. But he does a good job using the model to criticize contemporary universities -- and then even 'cultural studies' look more like a business enterprise with fast food quality --.

Well, since I can't expect anybody to read anything, I just hope for some responses on the topic of these books.... university, capital, state ideologies, educational complex in the age of globabalisation, so-called 'cultural studies' etc...

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