Something violent and unfortunate has happened here. And yet it is hard to wrap one’s thoughts around it, to make contact with ’cause’ and ‘effect’ in any meaningful, productive and instructive way. This place is uninhabitable but inescapable. This place inspires imaginings and thoughts of some other, maybe better way; leaves us yearning for clues as to an outside of this circle-declared-horizon.
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There is something beautiful in Pierre Bourdieu’s richly-descriptive portray of the Kabyle way of life that serves as the opening frame for the final chapter of his Outline of a Theory of Practice. It strikes me as an attractive and important textual event, not because I wish to be part of tribal Algerian culture, but for a moment, as reader, I am helped along, prodded to taking that step toward picturing the world from an alternative, distinctly different pair of shoes. And yet, what the reader encounters is not the simple seduction of elsewhere, some alternative ideological marker that we might attempt to pursue. I am left with no illusions about joining a traditional Berber community. It could not go well, not because I am personally unsuited in some special way, but rather because my life in the Western world has unprepared me to deal with (let alone see and hear) those other sets of rhythms, habits and dispositions. But the opening of possibility, however speculative, of being able to raise the question to oneself of being available to another way of being feels deeply empowering. The discourse universe which includes room for dissent, which enables the active play permitting orthodoxy and heterodoxy to work on each other and, perchance, to dislodge the decidedness-of-the-decided, to expand the envelope of what will be counted as thinkable, speakable and possible marks the beginning both of dialogic possibility and revolutionary change.
Certainly the opposite–the non-occurrence in which the expression of the foreign modality comes to count only as noise –would register in the realm of tragedy, except for the impossibly of such registration’s reception. We leave the scene none the wiser, still poorer for being too thoroughly steeped in the monologism we inhabit, the perfect containment of our doxa.
The contrast between such outcomes is brought home with confidence through Bourdieu’s narration inviting us to the edge of the empire of Western sensibility. The optimistic presumption is that once we learn how to look for such things in plain sight we might develop a capacity for detecting them in their more subtle iterations. The limits of our logic are not so much scarce as are our practices of recognizing them rare.
Rather than relying on literary illustration in a world so remote, these moves of disclosive pedagogy find application closer to home, rendering seeable and sensible the curious broken relief of market capitalism’s monologic neoliberal ambitions. Against the dominant Western narratives of global space and universal time, might we expect alternative, meaningfully different and dissenting modes of being?
In Yellow Springs, in the aftermath of the Antioch fiasco and through subsequent work in founding the Nonstop Institute, it is clear that beyond representations about financial necessity, something violent and unfortunate has happened and continues to happen. Of course by now there are few communities where declarations of economic crisis have not been employed as justification for dictating public sacrifices. Our schools, libraries and community services, one after another, find assessment as luxuries we must learn to do without. Our colleges and universities become designated sites for ‘belt tightening,’ a code for ‘made ready for the roll-back of workers’ rights.’ Yellow Springs, with the 2007 Antioch Board decision to close its only residential campus as an expense it could no longer afford, in many regards appears just a little ahead of the bleak downward curve. And while our media outlets lend a hand to getting the word around about the importance of caring for the markets, in this present aftermath of casino capitalism’s most recent ‘blunders’ we do understand that by no means are these disasters accidental.
In Yellow Springs our luck has not been all bad. The intellectual life of the place, while in some important ways historically enabled by the institutional traditions of Antioch College, has never exactly been coextensive of the organizational form. More plainly, one can close an educational organization but not a community. Closing a college may injure a community and make life more difficult for many of its members. It does not, however, foreclose upon the entire range of available possibilities, and we have long been a community nurturing to critical and creative thinking and the pursuit of alternative paths. The Nonstop Institute, as a grass-roots independent educational nonprofit, has been formed out of these difficult circumstances with a determination not to consider managerial orthodoxy advancing the agenda of diminished expectations to be the legitimate last word. And yet we do understand that the vocabulary of vision and then of action for beginning to deal with these circumstances and for building our way toward the pursuit of alternatives is neither easy nor assured work. Against the grain we work–perhaps with limited effect but nonstop–to bring to light the possibility of another path, the importance of finding the resource to make ourselves available to the possibility of becoming in some other way.