In University Without Condition (2002), Derrida argues that the university ought to ‘remain an ultimate place of critical resistance’ (2002:204). For Derrida, the primary ethical commitment of the university should be professing the truth, without claiming to hold it. So, the university’s particular sovereignty rests on the unconditionality which should be granted to it in order to say anything and to deconstruct even itself. The Humanities is where the principle of unconditionality ‘presents itself, originally and above all’ (2002:207), and where the commitment to professing the truth can be upheld (2002:202). However, currently, the Humanities is ‘held hostage’ to applied sciences. Notwithstanding, he has a vision for a New Humanities resting on the event of professing – a space to discuss the human through theorising and deconstruction (2002:203-208).
The old Humanities engages in descriptive rather than normative thinking and teaching, limiting itself to defining and reproducing its canons, avoiding prescriptions (2002:219). This tendency is stultifying, as it encourages teachers to simply explain oeuvres produced outside the university, and to train students to treat theorising in a disinterested manner, as if it were a craft (2002:221). The student is thus barred from forming reason, becoming instead proletarianised, for they cannot think the spiritual dimension of the human. Thus, they cannot self-actualise, inasmuch as the theorisation of truth in this context is confined strictly within the university, with knowledge being considered as separate from the civil society, rather than a public matter of professing (2002:219-220).
Similarly to Stiegler’s reflection on work, Derrida discusses working (negotium) and professing (as otium). There is a distinction within the university between the work of those considered workers (in employment) and those who are not. Only particular kinds of work are called ‘oeuvres’, works of art and spirit – the rest are evaluated for their exchange value (2002:216-217). One is deemed a worker if their work can be objectified into something that has exchange value; students, for instance, are not ‘workers’ as they are not remunerated. However, I contend, without student work, the university as it is would not exist, meaning that this work is unrecognised and devalued within the institution; similarly, the unpaid, always gendered reproductive and emotional work keeps institutions alive. On the other hand, there are those who are given the status of ‘workers’ but whose work is not acknowledged as indispensable or valued. Importantly, the digitalisation and virtualisation of work has changed the way in which we conceptualise it (2002:226-227). Work, thus, is characteristic to careers, crafts, employment (negotium) as a constative, short-termist act prevalent within the realm of the applied sciences which use ‘discourses of pure knowledge’ (2002:214-215).
For Derrida, professing is a performative act which involves thinking the ‘as if’, the contingent. To profess is not simply a career or a craft, or a matter of declaring oneself an ‘expert’. Instead, it is a promise, an ethical pledge of faith, a spiritual act which means ‘to declare openly, to declare publicly’ (2002:214). To profess is also to take responsibility for maintaining loyalty and commitment to what one believes in. The Humanities is the university’s primary site of critique where the ‘as if’ and new horizons can be imagined, performed and enacted, and false oppositions dislocated. The performative is an invitation to consider the (im)possible and the future to come. Importantly, the university ‘takes place, it seeks its place wherever this unconditionality can take shape’ (2002:236), so the university does not have an ‘inside’ confined within its walls or the minds of its professors.
The university to come would not seek to hold power and defence, for it would oppose all powers that limit democracy-to-come (2002:204-206). As such, the university is to be universal, beyond citizenship: a force against the sovereignty of power, a space for thinking, speech, writing, and performative works ‘which are far from being neutral utopias’ (2002:214). Derrida seeks a particular ethic as a commitment to telling what one believes to be true, and being auto-reflective, to create new forms of interdisciplinarity (2002:230).