University : Anat Matar

Before discussing this point further, though, I’d like to set general theories aside and focus for a moment on some of the most concrete and painful empirical details at hand. For me, such an examination must start at home, with the Israeli academic scene. A quick and effortless survey of this scene reveals the conservatism and obedience of Israeli professors—their unhesitant loyalty to the establishment. The list of sins is long and varied. Suffice it to cite a short, proud paragraph from Tel Aviv University’s bulletin:

While much of that research remains classified, several facts illuminate the role of the university. MAFAT, a Hebrew acronym meaning the R&D Directorate of the Israel Ministry of Defense, is currently funding 55 projects at TAU. Nine other projects are being funded by DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense. Seven highly-coveted Israel National Security Prizes have been awarded in recent years to members of TAU’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science . . . For security reasons, the recipients cannot be named.39

The phenomenon reoccurs as well in the institutes and departments of Middle East Studies, in special programs in Political Science, etc.; sociologists, archaeologists, and historians too know how to tell the story desired by the State, shoving aside and marginalizing whatever is viewed as a threat.40 Even the philosophy faculty breeds obedient servants to Power. As “moral advisors” to the army and the government they use an ethical discourse to allow their clients to execute precisely what they plan to.41

Complementarily, it is extremely difficult to come across faculty members who raise their voices against the government and its atrocious actions! Only a couple dozen Israeli professors, for instance, signed a very mild letter protesting restrictions imposed by the military on study in and movement to and from academic institutions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.42 Contemporary universities pride themselves on being relevant, but “relevance” is a euphemism. It actually means that research, all over the university, is recruited to serve the market, the government, and the military.

With these empirical data in mind, I now resume my conceptual analysis. As shown above, a host of dichotomies underpins the vision of the liberal university: fact vs. value, sense vs. force, truth-judgment vs. validity-judgment, constative utterance vs. performative utterance. Yet inquiry into both the nature of language and empirical facts has showed that such neat distinctions cannot be drawn. From Austin we learnt that the divide between constative and performative utterance must crumble and fall: every constative utterance is already an act, and every linguistic performative act already implies a constative one. Yet even Austin did not see that this insight must lead to the penetration of the parasitic and the marginal into the normative center and to seepage of the center outwards, towards the margins.43

As reason and its execution can no longer be clearly distinguished from each other, “lower” metaphysics is imbued with the force of application while the research results of the “higher” faculties are granted, must be granted, constative status. This insight, by its very nature, cannot remain within the boundaries of the philosophy of language. Today’s extra-academic research—that of the pharmaceutical industry and the computer sciences or even that of state security and the legal system—are no more marginal than academic research; their claim to “truth” is indistinguishable from that of “pure” academic research—since the latter, as we have seen, isn’t pure at all.

But the liberal university cannot deal with the consequences of this osmosis. It is precisely at this point where we realize the problem underlying the genuinely well-intended Kantian distinctions: the manner in which the mechanism they fashion serves the regime rather than disrupting its activities. The higher faculties (and those lower faculties which are entitled to content) turn out to be in dire need of philosophy’s purity, which would legitimize them as “academic” and thus whitewash the conservatism marking their economical, legal, archaeological, historical, establishment-flattering research.

For its part, philosophy, queen of the lower faculty, faces a major choice: to either willfully supply the desired “purity” and become a “profane” higher faculty or insist on sticking to its rational, critical, “pure” spirit, hence locking itself within the empty space allocated to criticism which is merely formal, procedural, devoid of concrete historical content. We seem to be facing a double-edged dagger: while one of its edges destroys any way of distinguishing between Power and its critiques, the other empties any potential criticism of a real content.

40. One of the most recent examples again comes from my own university: The Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University plans excavations in the occupied Silwan Village, to be funded by the extreme right-wing Elad Association.

41. I have analyzed one such example thoroughly in an article published in Hebrew.

42. Out of the 8000 that receieved the request to sign the letter, only about 400 did. See “academic freedom to whom?” See

43. This is the gist of Derrida’s criticism of Austin’s work, which he otherwise admires. See his “Signature Event Context,” in Limited Inc, trans. Samuel Weber (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988).

44. Jacques Derrida, “Mochlos,” in Eyes of the University, trans. J. Plug (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 102.

« Previous // Next »