strikes me that what is on display on graduation day is a vital and productive diversity. Bill Readings refers to it as a "community of dissensus" where "thinking is a shared process" without imposing particular terms of belonging or "identity or unity".
Higher education is valuable because it enables students to learn what Zygmunt Bauman calls "the art of living in a world saturated with information". We are bombarded with information which transforms not only what counts as knowledge but also the reality of our own existence. Susan Sontag noted that those who witnessed first hand the World Trade Centre bombings on 11th September 2001 described what they saw as "unreal" and "like a movie", while those of us around the globe who watched the devastation in real time on our television screens experienced it as a hyper-reality. Bauman continues: "At no turning point in human history did educators face a challenge strictly comparable to the one presented by the current watershed". Seeing the towers fall in New York seemed less real than the distant view on TV. The university is a place to prepare students for a life in such a society, to learn how information mediates the way we understand ourselves and our place in the world. It is where we learn how to judge between fabricated realities and distinguish them from our most intimate and profound personal commitments.
What then of 'The Faculty', Elaine Showalter's second campus story in Faculty Towers.? Using the academic novel as a kind of
social barometer, Showalter argues that the mood amongst staff stands in stark contrast to that of students. The scholarly idyll captured in CP Snow's The Masters is replaced with a joyless atmosphere of rivalry, pettiness, malevolence, anxiety and status obsession. Today's academic novels might not correspond to how life is on campus but they do convey, in exaggerated form, elements of the faculty imagination. "Vocation has become employment; critics have become superstars; scholars have become technicians," summarises Showalter. There is also a sense of being beleaguered by the changing priorities and systems that aim to audit scholarly value. The pressure to publish, the confidence-withering hierarchies of what is deemed 'cutting edge' or academically worthy all contribute to a kind of extreme vocational anxiety. I would add timidity and conservatism to Showalter's list of faculty pathos and down-heartedness. In a modest way this diary is an attempt to point to alternative choices and add other tales.
If graduation is the university's New Year's Eve then it is an apt moment to reflect on the version of academic life we aspire to and hope for. "At New Year we celebrate our hopes," writes Bauman. "And more than any other of the many hopes we cherish, the 'meta-hope,' the 'mother of all hopes': the hope that, this time at last, unlike the past trials and tribulations, our hopes won't be frustrated and dashed, and our resolve to fulfil them won't prematurely wilt, flag and run out of vigour, as our hopes and resolutions did in the past. New Year is the annual festivity marking the resurrection of hopes."