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Radical Philosophy Has Only Interpreted The Student Handjob…

February 14, 2012

rp172_cover

A response by Prof. Lucy Biscuit to the review of Undressing the Academy, or the Student Handjob by Daniel Nemenyi in Radical Philosophy 172. A copy of the original review can by viewed here: Nemenyi, Daniel, ‘University for Strategic Optimism, Undressing the Academy, or The Student Handjob’ (Review), Radical Philosophy 172:56 (2012)

Daniel Nemenyi, in his largely positive review of Undressing the Academy, or the Student Handjob for Radical Philosophy 172 repeats the same tired analysis made by ninety-percent of the hacks who have sought to supplement their own political commitment by pontificating on the University for Strategic Optimism. That is to say, he launches straight in, almost from the outset, with the tried and tested comparisons to the Situationist International:

Undressing the Academy is noticeably influenced by the Situationist International (SI) and their paradigmatic
(anti-)student handbook On the Poverty of Student Life. (p.56)

It is unclear who Nemenyi thinks he is impressing by this lazy comparison, but it certainly isn’t the students who have been reading our book. Whilst we have some degree of admiration for what the pro-Situ students achieved in Strasbourg, our offering takes very little from this text, other than its refusal to see the reform of a specialised institution such the university outside of the transformation of social conditions more broadly and its active propagation to achieve that through the form of its critique, and not simply its content.

Had Nemnyi paid a little more attention in class he would note that the only mention of ‘Situationism’ in Undressing the Academy is under the heading ‘Drugs’, where it is stated that “It probably doesn’t exist nowadays … The stuff of rumour and marketing, a brand name frequently applied to multiple sub-standard knock-offs, mostly placebos” (p.18). Nemenyi clearly fails see the irony at play, or how his denunciation of the supposedly ‘situationist’ elements in our analysis plays directly into our hands. It was engineered that way by us, in order to contaminate liberal discourse with calls for its immediate destruction, all the while sending up those academics still running around like a historical re-enactment society for 1968.

Nemenyi denounces our rigid dichotomy between students and academics. In doing so he sounds a little like those weary reactionaries who claim that we live in a classless society these days. If we had literally being saying that the academic was a purely reactionary agent and the student a purely revolutionary one, his critique of our analysis might carry more weight. What he misses, in his understanding of us, and the Pro-Situ students of Strasbourg, is the question of form, and not merely content. He appears blind to the fact that our analysis is in fact based in a performative détournement of Marx, with the eleven theses on Feuerbach making up the eleven stages of a communist morality play. Within this framework, the role of the Professor is cast as an allegory for the Bourgeoisie.

Nemenyi is either unaware, or choses to ignore the fact that he is actually reading the 2nd edition of this publication – Undressing the Academy – the first being a self-published affair entitled ‘The Student Handjob’. That edition was collectively produced and collectively distributed directly amongst autonomous groups of students, pillorying the exploitative social relations of knowledge production in the university in both the form of its production/distribution and in its content. In reproducing the same content, but in the traditional and harmless academic form of a conventionally produced book, we illuminate how this content becomes neutralised and absorbed into the very academy it purports to critique, in the process drawing out the inherent contradictions of so-called radical academia.

This ‘official’ edition Nemenyi claims to have read was simply released as a provocation in order to antagonise the academy, as a gesture of immanent negativity and a means of causing some trouble, shaming many who will recognise themselves in our words. It achieves this, even whilst we insinuate our allegorical call to class struggle into university libraries everywhere, ostensibly presented as a mere toothless ‘critique’ of the University.

As Nemenyi may or may not know, being an academic, no real critique of the university is possible within the limits of the university’s official knowledge and the class society of which it is a symptom. The only ‘real’ critique would be a practical critique through action, in the revolutionary overturning of those class relations that produce and reproduce the university. It would mean the self-abolition of the student as a category, through the abolition of the social relations inherent in the university itself. This is the point made in our choice to détourn the Theses on Feuerbach, infamous, of course, for its call to put down philosophy and to take up the practical critique of all that exists – communism. Naturally, such a project would be incompatible with the continuing careers of individuals such as Nemenyi and the oxymoronic publication for which he writes – ‘Radical Philosophy’.

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