As soon as we conceived the idea to publish a critical piece on the Institute, we felt ill at ease, as though we had broken a rule. Our intention was to articulate some of the frustrations that exist among the student body. The complaints are well-known by now, often expressed in rant sessions in between classes and in corridors – especially since the recent student protests against the cafeteria’s ‘pic-nic’ ban. The ‘right to space’ issue is just the latest expression of a discomfort that lies much deeper, marking a quiet conflict between the students and the Institute. For us, the authors, this took on the feeling of being somehow at risk in publishing an article that overtly criticizes the Institute. What could be the cause of this feeling – and what does it signify?
Most of us would probably agree that the lack of space is only part of a larger disregard of the Institute towards its students.It is hard not to notice the irony of studying at an institution that teaches politics but whose architecture is completely depoliticized – with rarely a poster about anything other than an advert for an event and hardly a space where one can discuss and collectivise. This is at an institute that espouses independence and solidarity as core values in its charter.
What is really at issue here? The independence to practice this independence only in front of the Broken Chair?
How can one not be in a moral bind when the theories taught within classrooms do not match with one’s everyday existence, when politics is something to be kept at arm’s length lest one’s image and that of the Institute itself suffer in the eyes of prospective employers? Here, the logic of instrumentality reigns supreme – actions are performed in order to achieve something else, never just for their own sake. And this comes to define our relationship with the Institute – it is a stepping stone to get to another place.
Isn’t it strange and worrisome that we, the authors of these lines, think that we might receive a negative response from the Directorate? Both of us have been closely involved with student newspapers during our undergrad where each edition would contain a piece criticising the university for a host of reasons. The point is not simply that we had no fear of censorship or of being told off. It is also that this critique was compassionate, showing a concern for a place that we ultimately loved and wanted to improve. With the institute, we are hesitant to accuse. Our critique might expose our underlying dissatisfaction and alienation – emotions that are ultimately ugly and hostile and while they might express something tacitly present in most students, do not particularly help in changing anything.
Undoubtedly, there are things we too like about the Institute – academic rigour, access to academic and professional networks, but love? One can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a fake flower, even lay it on display in the living room, match it to the colours of the furniture in the room, but can one ever love a fake flower? To fall in love requires there to be a unique smell, unique character, the possibility of change where some days the flower is more withered than others so a relationship can form – when we water it, it grows and spreads its aroma which then reaches us. Absent the presence of any character, of expression, of youthful unrest and jest, what can possibly be left behind to love?
And if there is no love, no passion, then there is no room for politics, only for management.
This is the first edition of ‘The Graduate Press’. It has been tried in previous years but every attempt at regular publication sooner or later fizzled out. Whatever the reasons might be, we remain hopeful that a journal like this has the power to create a sense of community, with or without the approval of the Directorate. This is crucial not only to ensuring a wide readership but also to combating the apolitical atmosphere that haunts our Institute.