This essay argues that the university ought to encourage the flourishing of multiple languages and metalanguages. Opposing recent Habermasian universalism and Victorianist virtue talk (e.g., Amanda Anderson's The Way We Argue Now), it queries why critics turn to character as a trope for stability, sincerity, and competence while in full flight from the supposed poststructuralist evils of undecidability, authenticity, and performance. However, this aspiration for a guaranteed and individuated meaning comes at a price, which is that of refusing to comprehend deconstructive insights about language. While the jargon of authenticity bedevils identity politics and multiculturalism today, deconstruction dismantles both authenticity and sincerity through a deployment of metasincerity. The essay investigates the character of critique as it arose in the early debates around the Enlightenment. Philosophical critique can be rejuvenated by paying attention to the texture of the “university in the world,” whereas the “globalizing university” subsumes difference and multiplicity under late capitalist managerialism. Defending the Derridean vision of “the university without condition” as achievable by welcoming multiple metalanguages, the article connects the older Kantian commitments to critique with the newer transcultural commitments to hospitality. Derrida's reflections in The Monolingualism of the Other explain the pathologies of the language politics of the university. By allowing a rich interplay of languages, the university can function as a site of openness wherein new epistemologies and a democratic future for the world can be crafted.
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Srinivas Aravamudan; The Character of the University. boundary 2 1 February 2010; 37 (1): 23–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2009-036
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