Marina Garcés: Letter to my Philosophy students (and to all those who are ashamed to continue obeying)

Originally published in

There is so much to say and think about the current changes undergone by the university that I do not know where to start. So I’ve decided to do it by what’s most concrete and most urgent: you. You who are sitting in front of me every Tuesday and every Thursday, at half past three, while your city seems calm and takes a nap. 

Why do you come? I wonder every time I see you arrive, one after the other, and sit quietly, always in the same place without anyone asking you to do so: neither coming back nor sitting in the same place. The ritual repeats each day. Gradually entering the class, raising the blinds, opening the windows, scrolling the screen covering the blackboard, and exchanging two or three comments until I start talking. I tell you things about the Orient, I try to turn philosophy’s prejudices upside down, I open escape routes towards the unthinkable and I offer return paths that are no longer the same, and neither are we. I propose discussions, group readings, seminars from your researches. You follow me, you do everything I say: listen, write, discuss the readings, participate in the debates. You shall present your papers within the deadline. I guess that’s the point and that’s what needs to be done, course by course, by means of a schedule that gives rhythm to the weeks and shape to your lives as students. Wasn’t it always like that?

If I write you and if it’s urgent is because now is not always. Despite entering the same classroom, even though we know the ritual, we are now treading on a reality that isn’t the same and in which our weekly meeting has become simply an extravagance. We are out of place, we are off the track and quite surely we have little time. What I say is not the result of apocalyptic fantasies or anti budget-cuts victimhood. It’s been years since the university quietly set sail to its radical transformation, with a navigational chart we are not part of.

Intellectuals grieve, feeling nostalgic and powerless. We professors and students exorcize fear of change by acting as if nothing was happening, obeying like automatons the dead guidelines of an institution that now won’t give you anything in return, but a devalued degree of a ruined country where you are already redundant, you and 50% of young people who can’t find anything to do. Our obedience shames me.

We only have two options: either we flee from here, as many are already doing, or we turn our extravagance into a challenge. But a challenge to what? To the instrumental and shrewd rationality that colonizes our lives while the effects of dispossession to which we are subject increase. We are being robbed of our common goods and our collectively produced wealth. But we are also being robbed of our own selves, our values, our wagers and convictions. The crisis not only makes us poorer, it also makes us more miserable. Let’s be clear: the value—in terms of an estimate—which you’ll obtain from this career is zero. But the wealth you can obtain is, if you will, inexhaustible. The yield is not up to you. The wealth is.

In the 60’s, an American artist and nun, Sister Corita, hung a set of rules at the Art School of the Immaculate Heart College. [Photo] She invited her students to trust, experiment, be disciplined, look for good role models, not waste anything, rejoice and work, work, and work. She also invited them to write other rules the next week. Now I’ll try to jot down some new ones for us, but not a week but over half a century later. I invite you to take them to rewrite them when you see fit.

1. Find what you care about and treat it as an end in itself. Anything that you instrumentalize will end up instrumentalizing you.

2. Do not waste time or waste anyone else’s. Take it in the highest regard, yours and that of those who share it with you.

3. Spare no effort. Be guided by the highest exigency you can offer, not by the expectations you can meet.

4. Avoid unnecessary distractions. Do not settle into the “pose” of the stressed one, the “burdened” one, overwhelmed by circumstances. It’s ridiculous.

5. Believe in what makes you live and, if you can, share it.

6. If you do not have great purposes, look for a small one and take it to the end. You’ll see it takes you very far.

7. Forget the words that fit too well into the noise that deafens and numbs us. Search for those that interrupt it, although you may need to fall silent for that.

8. Gain knowledge without losing the questions.

9. Think about how you’ll earn a living. It’s an important question. Money is paid for with life.

10. And, as Corita says, rejoice whenever possible. It’s easier than it seems.


Between Saragossa and Barcelona, November 29, 2012.