The humanities, literature and philosophy are in crises, we are told. Theory is condemned as being disconnected from the real world. Academics are accused of living in their ivory towers. The relevance of our work is constantly questioned. The slice of university funding that is left to us is narrower and narrower every year. Theoretical reflexion has renounced its bid of analyzing the social world in toto. Academic isolationism triumphs over knowledge sharing. Specialization triumphs over the general.
We reject this discourse of crisis. There is no crisis in the humanities. There is exploitation and insularity in the humanities. Humanities scholarship and teaching is underpaid, understaffed, and increasingly exploitative, and there is no reason that this will end in the foreseeable future. But we recognize that there is also insularity. Scholarship has lost touch with social reality as scholars’ increased workload restricts scholarship to the game of hitting the right wave of the academic fashion industry. The “publish or perish” culture has prevented scholars from producing well-knit pieces and reaching wider audiences outside of the peer-reviewed framework.
But we still believe that theory can change the world. Theory does not exist in the abstruse clouds of philosophers. Theories are creations made to provide explanations and solutions to concrete contemporary problems. In other words, theory does not lie ready-made in the prefabricated sky of concepts, but grows from the very ground we all walk on. Theory is already a practice. Therefore it must be judged in light of practice, just as much it must orient our practices. Therefore theory must start and expand beyond the academy. We assign two aims to theory: first, submit dominant discourse to a merciless logical critique aimed at revealing their assumptions and their effects in society; second, contribute to the political invention of our frames of perceiving and understanding the world.
There are two routes out of this exploitation and this culture industry: theorize and organize.
We accept the ideal of rational debate in a public sphere, but we reserve the right to take sides in cultural, political, and ideological debate. Claims of scientific and scholarly neutrality are all too often nothing but apologies to a political and social order that is anything but orderly. We claim the right, as scholars and activists, to address works of art, culture, literature, and philosophy for their political and social relevance.
We, scholars of French at New York University, propose to use the wealth of historical, theoretical, literary, and scientific material available to us in our discipline to accomplish both tasks of organization and theory. Our goal is to provide the institutional space and intellectual tools to the community of all politically committed individuals inside and outside our university. We propose an open space, both physical and digital, that provides the ground for innovative projects in scholarship and teaching. This space seeks above all to tie our scholarly activity to the social and political events around us. It includes:
- A collaborative theoretical workshop, where work in progress (articles, conference papers, seminars, poems, etc.) can be shared and discussed
- A collective blog of activism and news relating to social movements in NYU, NYC, and globally
- Resources with relevant articles; reviews of books in theory, politics and literature ; links to pedagogical materials for teaching and discussing underrepresented perspectives (including cultural, ideological, and political views)
We provide paths out of the dominant trend of theoretical reflection that is devoid of practical impact: we reject the idea of research for research’s sake, of theory for theory’s sake, of art for art’s sake: we always analyze the fond with the forme, and ask the “why?” of every project we undertake: the pertinence and the importance of our research. We do this not to cater to the dictates of fashion and the whims of the market, but to the concern of relevance of our work inside and outside the academic community.