Jun 2010

The New Contingencies: apropos of the Humanities, the future of thought and the end of the university

The moment of deepening economic and social crisis in Europe would not seem the most propitious time to found a new Graduate School in London. Yet such circumstances often provide opportunities for radical change, even as the nature of that change is equally radically uncertain.

It is over thirty years since Jean-François Lyotard noted the passing of the University as an academy grounded in the universality of a governing cultural idea, and the emergence of localized institutes based in the local determinations of different language games governed, all the same, in a manner appropriate to the notion of the game: that is, by numbers, by the empire of economic rationality that has now contributed powerfully to this crisis.

From its outset the London Graduate School must not set out its stall as an institution that does little more than count. Rather, it should position itself as a quite different kind of counter-institution in which intellectual life and scholarship can be revitalized by opening research questions to an engaged public sphere of London-wide thinkers, academics, writers, artists, film-makers and students alike. Indeed, the founding ethos of LGS should be that questions posed by the new contingencies may be best developed precisely among and across these various, and indeed often overlapping, groups. Higher education institutions are being transformed, and the worst manifestations of this transformation call for radical action, renewed activism, concerted resistance. But the irreducible supplement of such urgent responses is a space for inventive thought and critical discourse that is not merely attendant upon them.

The work of such a space, however, needs in the first instance to be crystallised by keeping open more fundamental questions: what, if anything, do we want our teaching and research to be for? What do we want to make happen, if anything at all? If the world of the university in its classical sense is fast-closing, what could or should be done in an arena that might remain open to the future and the other? The answers to such questions can neither be wholly topical nor essentially timeless, but must themselves traverse the borders of the present, putting into play the real differences that are in fact constitutive of the ‘here and now’.

The LGS ought to be an institution that provides an academic forum for exploring, in the spirit of a new public realm, alternative lines of communication, emergent forms of thought, new openings in cultural practice, different modes of life and new kinds of social bond in the context of one of the most diverse and dynamic capital cities in the world.

Simon Morgan Wortham, Professor of English at Kingston University, London. Co-Director of the London Graduate School. Co-authored with Martin McQuillan, Professor of Literary Theory and Cultural Analysis, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Kingston University, London, Co-Director of the London Graduate School, and Scott Wilson, Professor in the School of Humanities, Kingston University, London.

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Simon Morgan Wortham

Who am I?

Simon Morgan Wortham is Professor of English at Kingston University, London and co-founder of the London Graduate School.