Peer Review, Summer/Fall 2001

Summer/Fall 
2001, 
Vol. 4, 
No. 1
Peer Review

Reality Check: Who's Afraid of Globalization . . . Can We Talk?

"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist - I really believe he is the Antichrist - I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you - sit down and tell me all the news."

Thus opens, in translation, Tolstoy's War and Peace. Anna Pávlovna Schérer welcomes Prince Vasíli Kurágin to her soiree, some evening in July 1805. In gesture and word Anna Pávlovna suggests and enacts the lesson that underwrites the entire magnum opus, namely that even in times of crisis, of war that does or does not lead to peace, real friendship and the equally real appearance of friendship override as they overwrite the fractures and ruptures that the history of nation-State and the estates of Empire impose and insist upon. The threat of dismissal and banishment is implied [if you don't ..., if you still ...]; the gesture of concern and friendship is concrete and realized [how do you do?, sit down and tell...]

Anna Pávlovna begins with fear and ends literally holding hands and encouraging speech, full and free. It is now the last week of September 2001. I was going to write a piece entitled simply "Who's Afraid of Globalization?", about the impending shadows of the actions and words around and within the IMF/World Bank meetings, about the too-swiftly receding shadows of the violence (I'd say police and State but we could debate that) of Genoa and Quebec, about the physical shadow of the nine-foot high, extremely expensive fence the Secret Service had 'gifted' the colonized peoples of Washington, DC. That essay was about globalization and the ways in which university, and in particular undergraduate, curricula rigorously divert our attentions from an engaged critique of the subject. That essay relied on a group of French intellectuals working in the mid-1970s.

In 1977, in response to the conditions of philosophy, philosophy instruction, philosophizing, and State sponsored reforms of all three, in France, GREPH, or groupe de recherches sur l'enseignement philosophique, published what they referred to as their not-first not-last work, Qui A Peur de la Philosophie? Their analysis begins with a statement of necessary proliferation: "Pour le GREPH - il n'y a pas la philosophie." For GREPH, there is no Philosophy. GREPH pushed for a decentralized understanding and teaching of philosophy, but one which also recognized the importance of everyone thinking through the problematics of philosophy being and becoming everywhere. Everyone, that is, understood as intellectual. Where the national government understood philosophy as a discrete, bounded discipline that could be taught in one and only one year, and then examined in a way that would render the instruction terminal, GREPH experimented with teaching philosophy across the years, and in particular at younger ages, while not giving up the year of philosophy, the year which governmental reform intended to eliminate, or in the language of GREPH, liquidate. So, into the retain-or-eliminate binary, GREPH proposed impossible extension.

I was going to write about that year of philosophy, and its extension, in terms of U.S. undergraduate curricula. I was going to suggest the possibilities of, first, instituting a year of globalization studies in all colleges and universities, radically decentered and autonomous on each campus. The point would be that here and now intellectual formation worth its salt needs to take on board globalization, that while the content is terrifically important, the investment in the ongoing conversation, public and national, is initially more important. In the end, I'd hoped to persuade you to see this Year of Globalization Studies as a way of thinking through our responsibilities to the formation of intellectuals. I still do hope to do so ...

But the IMF and World Bank are not meeting, the fence is not up, and the shadows are considerably changed. Instead of thinking of globalization as the subject-position of the title, let's consider, instead, fear. Again turning to GREPH, for a moment, I note that, according to their preface, as the group entered into experiments and essays at extending the age of philosophy downward, they encountered what they referred to as "the dominant consensus of fear."

As Director of the Expository Writing Program at The George Washington University, I've seen that consensus. I've spent the last weeks among teachers and students dealing with one another, with family, friends and strangers, and with the notion of the public. Repeatedly, people have expressed shock at the loss of lives, of a sense of security, and of open public discourse. While people have mourned and despaired at the violence committed in New York and in Washington, they have also wondered at the swiftness with which the metaphor of war has been disseminated. In an undergraduate school with a large international student population, we have been encouraged by the respect and solidarity shown among students, as we have worried at the infringements to public inquiry. How difficult is it now to "teach war critically", to "teach nation critically", to "teach violence critically"? We, the faculty, have shared stories about our classrooms, families, neighborhoods. We've shared stories about our sense of helplessness and our sense of hope, both imbedded in hard-earned experience. We've wondered about the constant invocation of unity. I keep hearing people say, "As Americans, we ...", and wonder about the non-citizen residents in the United States, and how this phrase, now a mantra, marks them. In Of Hospitality, Derrida calls this 'pas de l'hospitalité', the step of hospitality/the rejection or absence of hospitality. He explains this as The law of unlimited hospitality enmeshed with the laws of hospitality that are always conditional and conditioned.

Why are we so unprepared to discuss the events not only of September 11, not only of the intervening days and months, but also of the future? How might undergraduate institutions address the widespread bankruptcy of insight and discourse that accompanies the current dominant consensus of fear? I propose, from a structural institutional level, that we begin with a year of study. I don't mean a calendar year, as in we make the Year 2001 the Year of Study X, but rather that each undergraduate student dedicate one year of her/his term to studying, coherently, one theme, the same theme. Given the current climate of fear, I further propose that we study neither war nor peace but rather hope. In one of his last books, Pedagogy of Hope, Paulo Freire identified hope as, first, an ontological need. For hope to become historical concreteness, Freire then argued, it needs practice. Hope devoid of practice becomes, first, hopelessness, then tragic despair. Hence, to develop and sustain hope, "a kind of education in hope" is required.

What if we stated that for one to function adequately and responsibly as an intellectual, in the material and real present, that one should have spent at least a year thinking about hope? about its biology? its mathematics? its literature? its chemistry? its history? its gender studies? its queer studies? its theology? its music? the list goes on. You can design the curriculum for your own institution.

Remember how War and Peace ends? Pierre and Natásha invent, discover, construct, fall in love. For Natásha, who rightly has the last word as well as the last transformation, "everything, her face, walk, look, and voice, was suddenly altered. To her own surprise a power of life and a hope of happiness rose to the surface and demanded satisfaction." What if our curriculum helped students and faculty, together, to study, rigorously, and even to demand a power of life and a hope of happiness?

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