This is the scholarly lion at columbia university. It cannot roar. It can’t charge. It can’t even move. It is only a statue.
One wonders, frankly, what kind of comment on scholarship is implicit in this puzzling object, with its ruffled main, its gnarled lips, its green face the color of sea-beaten algae or refrigerated mold or weathered bronze, its thick lips, its empty eyes, its stiffened limbs. Are scholars meant to be like lions, brave and heroic, ready to seize the truth in their jaws, to roar at lies, to stand guard before virtue and prestige? Or are scholars here represented as statues, statues of something that might once have been brave when it was alive and lithe, but that now is halted, appropriated and bronzed?
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I was reading a post by Stanley Katz on the impending closure of the University of Florida’s philosophy department and saw that he’d written another article called “The Pathbreaking, Fractionalized, Uncertain World of Knowledge.” This article begins by quoting A.N. Whitehead:
“The task of the university is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue.”
This strikes me as an interesting take on the way the university finds its place in history. There are so many other ways of imagining the university’s historical trajectory: It’s the proud offspring of Western Europe, spreading around the globe to bring enlightenment. (This sounds like Whitehead, but is oriented towards transmitting a prior civilization rather than creating a new one.) Or it’s the ruin of an elitist institution, bereft of its mission of teaching reason or national culture, a degraded victim of neoliberal processes of corporatization, privatization, and auditing. Or it’s a cyborg composed of part medieval tradition, part incoherent consumerism, part mega-scientific research, a patchwork of past and present struggling to stay in motion.
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