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  • Posthumanism in the Age of Globalization:Rethinking the End of Education
  • William V. Spanos (bio)

To return to play its purely profane vocation is a political task.

—Giorgio Agamben (2007, 77)

I am grateful to the editors of this volume on the urgent question of humanism and the humanities in higher education for inviting me to reconsider what I wrote about this urgent issue nearly twenty years ago—in the aftermath of the Vietnam War—in my book, The End of Education: Toward Posthumanism (1993), from the vantage point of the post-9/11 occasion, an expanse of volatile time that bore witness to the implosion of the Soviet Union and the United States’ renewed initiative (following its “kicking” of the”Vietnam syndrome” at the time of the first Gulf War), to achieve global hegemony. I mean the imperial initiative, precipitated, above all, by the al Qaeda bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that, in providing the U.S. with a”new frontier” (enemy)1 “justified” the George W. Bush administration’s declaration of an unending global “War on Terror,” which is to say, not only to undertake, in the name of “the clash of civilizations,” [End Page 15] unilateral “pre-emptive wars” against “rogues states” and the imposition of ventriloquized governments on them (“regime change”), but also, and equally, if not more important, particularly as it pertains to the issue of higher education (knowledge production) and the American polity, the announcement of the Homeland Security State, that is, the establishment of the state of exception as the norm. Such an invitation not only offered me the pleasurable opportunity to reread for the first time what I wrote about higher education in the United States so long ago at such a volatile time but also, given the epochal transformations, both local and global, that have ensued in the interim, a certain anxiety about some of the recommendations concerning the university, humanist studies, and, not least, the “post-human” I proffered in my concluding chapter.

In the following remarks about The End of Education, written retrospectively from the vantage point of the fraught local and global post-9/11 occasion, I will first posit what I continue to think is not only valid about my initial understanding of the idea of humanism but, because it remains inadequately thought, in need of further thinking: that humanism is not simply a worldly/historical, but also and at bottom an ontological phenomenon, that is, a way of representing (the “truth” of) being at large. Second, I will suggest that the modern University had its origins in the disciplining of being in the age of the Enlightenment. Third, I will show that the poststructuralists de-centering of Man constituted a revolution—an event, in Alain Badiou’s sense of the word—that was immediately betrayed by their failure to perceive the ontological de-centering of Man as a de-centering that also occurred at the more “worldly” sites on the continuum of being. Fourth, I will suggest that this betrayal, aided and abetted by the United States’ globalization of the free market in the post-Cold War period and, after the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al Qaeda on 9/11, its apotheosis of the “Homeland Security State” and the normalization of the state of exception, enabled an invasion of the University by neoliberal capitalism intended not only to recuperate but to aggrandize the control over knowledge production it lost during the turbulent Vietnam decade. I am referring to the corporate initiative tacitly (in the name of the failing economy) but massively committed to the obliteration of both the residual traditional function of the humanities (the production of good “nationalist“ citizens of the nation-state) and, above all, the function of the humanities inaugurated by the protest movement in the 1960s and 1970s that would supersede the former—the instigation [End Page 16] of critical consciousness—in favor of reducing them to service departments: instrumentalist agencies for providing students—native and foreign—with the skills (particularly “global English”2) to operate the electronic tools of the neoliberal global free market. Fifth, and in keeping with the lesson...


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