Tuesday, September 10, 2013


This passage appears in an article by Andrew Crumey referring to a statement by Walter Benjamin, "in an oppressive regime every day is presented as a new emergency." In response to a comment, Crumey quotes the relevant passage from a translation of Benjamin's original essay:

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the "emergency situation" in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.

According to the administration, the university where I teach is in a constant state of crisis, a crisis which precludes our reflecting on what we are doing in any meaningful way. We must spend all our energy bailing out the boat to prevent it from sinking so that there is no time to consider the direction it is heading in. I had not realized before that "the emergency situation" is itself a tool of oppression. It is even more effective when a crucial cause of the emergency is articulated as too many faculty, and the current round of crises is announced by saying that it is hard to see how we can deal with it without the retrenchment of faculty. This emergency may well be real, but we have had false alarms in the past, and over the past five years students have declined by about 5% and instructional faculty have declined by almost 20% (full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty by 11%).

Ultimately, however, the association of a state of emergency and an oppressive environment, one that inhibits the free flow of ideas, is an evocative perspective that suggests that rather than focusing merely on the emergency at hand, we must come to understand why we are formulating the current state of affairs as an emergency.

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