The third year might be the year of existential questions. The should I stay or should I leave (as if I had a choice: I didn’t bring myself here, I am not deciding on where the wind blows me afterwards). I have been trying to rationalise it in lieu of small talk, whenever someone tries to strike a conversation. I have resolved the question of academia a long time ago. My last hope of world-making is being in a type of academia that makes me happy. In the end, I am a very egoistic person and I definitely have been going what I enjoy and enjoying what I do- even when I had to pay some of its tedious prices.
I understand that the university is becoming a depressing place; I just happen to believe it is worth fighting for, changing and resisting. May be it is a teenager gratitude for the institution that accepted the nerd I was. May be it is the middle class girl gratitude for the institution that broke some of her boring manicured social space. And may be it is just the actual -not nostalgic- sense of possibility, hope, dynamism, chance encounters that it has always promised, and occasionally delivered.
So yes, I love the university, as yet, I hope it does not betray me frequently enough to leave me bitter. So far it is only “thing” I manged to commit to. I have seen it struggling, even if I haven’t helped it in that struggle. I haven’t and will never forgive that it was teargassed, that I saw guns and thugs in it, that I got scared for my students’ life in it, that my office had a bullet hole in the window, and that it is usually students who had to take up the fight to protect it as a safe space (as students usually do and as academics usually fail to do- ironic since students leave it and academics stay )
I also understand that I oscillate between two different modes of being in the University. One is an old and dying. A bureaucratic corpse, that will collapse into dust with a single poke. The other as well-oiled, multi-million building, shiny machine that will grind us academics and students.
The shiny machine asks us to publish or parish. The neo-liberal mode of entrepreneurial productivity of being in the business of reading books. Reflect on it long enough and publishing becomes futile. Every now and then a statistic comes out telling us that most papers are not read, or cited. A constant reminder that you are so mediocre, laboring for something worthless, to gain a job that would never be promised for you, which thousands of other can fill. That you are so disposable, your research is disposable, your attempt to make it relevant passes through the path of impact. Your teaching depends on quality of feedback, shiny smile, and being nice, always be nice, setting learning outcomes, saying learning outcomes every week, and then restating them at the end, what happens in between can be charaterised by 100 pedagogical theories that do not matter as long as everyone is happy, challenged enough but not not too much so as too feel uncomfortable.
The corpse, demands that we all have properly stamped papers. Security clearances, before you teach, before you research, before you travel, before you invite someone to speak, before you get invited to speak. That you fill in the days you are supposed to serve. That hierarchies are preserved. That a professor is never just called a Dr., that plagiarism is formally not tolerated, but informally- you really can’t call the old respected people on it, they are old and wise after all. while it formally cares about research, the bureaucratic employee forgets to renew access to journals, you can not get permits for fieldwork, you might get arrested for taking pictures, conducting interviews without security clearances, so research ends in reiterations. Good research translates sometimes, and has citations and references, and an occasional argument.
Yet; I think in the seams of these two (the corpse desperately wants to be a shining machine, because the world bank tells her that that the way it won’t die); I think I saw loads of alternative practices. I heard my professors say ” العلم رحم بين أهله”which I am unable to translate. It generally denotes that knowledge is a familial tie among those who work with it, knowledge is mercy, compassion, and an act of generosity. I worked constantly around people who prayed – sometimes automatically, admittedly- that whatever they are studying and/or writing would be useful knowledge. This is a reference to the prophets’ Hadith
“When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased).”
Now a ceaseless charity is what in our 21st century language we would could sustainable charity. I am not well established religiously to be able to give a knowledgeable interpretation of the hadith, and these can be found elsewhere anyway .. but it has always struck me that our modern day academia can be a spiritual practice- despite the neoliberal and/or repressive assaults. It can be one space, where we can conduct ourselves without severing our being from all its transcendentalism. Knowledge production (how banal!) is one path of immortality; that does not necessarily means glory for one’s name, but that that at least some of the world-making practices, that is the business of academics as they read, take notes, explain, summarize, or come up with an argument, will seep through other life-worlds, may be create a possibility here, or a potential there for another world making practice. The business of world making is our fundamental business as humans; the more we share our worlds, trivial and unoriginal as they may be, through writing, teaching, office-houring, and I am afraid to say it- marking the endless our life worlds will be.. So yes, publish or parish. I absolutely endorse that; in all the meanings the phrase wasn’t meant to convey.
(hits publish note)