Fictitious seminar on imaginary disobedience

I’ve been reading some listserve archives from the 2009 strikes and I came across a mocking proposal for an alternative seminar. I don’t think the somewhat heavy-handed irony is likely to get lost in translation.


You will find below a proposal for an alternative seminar.

A seminar titled “The expression of social malaise” will be held every monday at 9pm. Drawing on the recent works of our colleagues from Guadaloupe and those of our working-class neighbors from 2005, we will learn to generate acts of symbolic, media-ready disobedience.

The seminar will begin with a theoretical exposition of alternative means of expressing social malaise (occupying train stations and commercial buildings, setting garbage cans on fire, vandalizing bus stops). The practical application of these means will be open for discussion, and there will be a presentation on indispensable information for strikers (about the cracks in the riot police’s armor, protecting yourself from tear gas grenades, and practical legal advice).

The second part of the seminar will be dedicated to physical exercises relevant to this expression of social malaise (exercises in dispersion, intensive running, basics of close combat, unarmed and with blades, throwing paving stones, fabricating Molotov cocktails, and so on).

Course credit for students will involve an individual and spontaneous student project, preferably of a practical nature. This seminar can be counted for credit either in Law or in Communications.

Participants from the experimental centers of Clichy-sous-bois and Villiers-le-Bel will intervene in the seminar.

A and M

PS: If this proposition is taken seriously, the organizers of the seminar are not to be held responsible.

Some of the listserve participants then chimed in with suggestions on the grading system; whereupon a professor suggested rather more seriously that even in fun, such discussions probably shouldn’t be left in the public record.

It’s probably superfluous to note, at any rate, that the humor of the proposition apparently derives from the juxtaposition between the register of illegal street violence and academic discourse. The former is mockingly dignified by the latter; the latter is profaned by the former. One is left wondering, though, what sort of impulse towards imaginary disobedience motivated the authors, and what sort of social function this humor is serving or undermining.

A philosopher’s ethnic joke

I was thinking of reading a famous — in some quarters infamous — book called La pensée 68 (i.e., ’68 Thought), by Alain Renaut and Luc Ferry, a 1988 critique of 60s French intellectuals. So far I’m only a few pages into it, but I thought I would just reproduce the epigraph, which consists of an ethnic joke that Ferry has repeated elsewhere. It goes like this:

A Frenchman, an Englishman and a German were assigned to study the camel.

The Frenchman went to the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes, spent half an hour there, talked to the keeper, threw bread to the camel, teased it with the tip of his umbrella, and, when he got home, wrote a column, for his newspaper, full of keen and spiritual observations.

The Englishman, along with his tea-box and comfortable camping supplies, went and set up his tent in the Oriental countries, and after a stay of two or three years, produced a thick volume overflowing with facts, without order or conclusion, but with real documentary value.

As for the German, full of disdain for the Frenchman’s frivolousness and the Englishman’s absence of general ideas, he closed himself up in his room to write a work of several volumes, entitled: Idea of the camel drawn from the conception of the self.

Un Français, un Anglais, un Allemand furent chargés d’une étude sur le chameau.

Le Français alla au jardin des Plantes, y passa une demi-heure, interrogea le gardien, jeta du pain au chameau, le taquina avec le bout de son parapluie, et, rentré chez lui, écrivit, pour son journal, un feuilleton plein d’aperçus piquants et spirituels.

L’Anglais, emportant son panier à thé et un confortable matériel de campement, alla planter sa tente dans les pays d’Orient, et en rapporta, après un séjour de deux ou trois ans, un gros volume bourré de faits sans ordre ni conclusion, mais d’une réelle valeur documentaire.

Quant à l’Allemand, plein de mépris pour la frivolité du Français et l’absence d’idées générales de l’Anglais, il s’enferma dans sa chambre pour y rédiger un ouvrage en plusieurs volumes, intitulé : Idée du chameau tiré de la conception du moi.

I’m not sure I find it a extremely funny joke, but academic humor is always worth documenting as a cultural artifact, if nothing else.