Bennington letter

29 April 2010

Dear Vice-Chancellors and Dean of School,

I write to express my astonishment and indignation at the recent news of the imminent closure of philosophy at Middlesex.

As someone who has taught literary theory and continental philosophy in the UK for 20 years and in the USA for the last 10, I think I am reasonably well-placed to point out that the department you are planning to close has a truly international reputation as one of the relatively rare philosophy departments where serious work in continental philosophy is being pursued.  As you must be aware, the research done by your department over the years has not been a narrow disciplinary affair, but has had repercussions across the Humanities more generally, to the extent that I would venture to suggest that if your University has any national and international visibility in the Humanities, it is because of the eminence of such figures as Peter Osborne, Peter Hallward and Eric Alliez.  Through their varying mediations of continental (and especially French) thought to a wider anglophone audience, these and other scholars in the department have rendered an inestimable service to students and scholars in the English-speaking world, and contributed to vibrant ongoing debates that are of the essence of a democratic and progressive intellectual life.

Even if one were to imagine that the philosophical positions defended and advanced by members of the department were perceived by your university administration to be inimical to certain current trends in higher education, so that these scholars might correctly be thought to belong to an international community of colleagues in the Humanities that tends to be critical of such trends as the corporatization of the University, the application of quantitative measures to work that is fundamentally inimical to such measures, the commodification of knowledge more generally, and the often vapid language of “excellence” used to assess what we do – even in that case, it might be recognized that according to the questionable standards of assessment thus imposed, the department has performed extremely well, and indeed outperformed other departments not picked out for closure.  When an administration targets a unit that that administration’s own measures should rationally recognize as being excellent, one can only assume that it is acting out of other, altogether more questionable, motives or, to put it bluntly, that this is a politically motivated action that does not in fact have the higher interests of the University at heart.

There is a great deal with which I disagree in the detail of the philosophical positions defended by the Middlesex philosophers.   But I recognize the quality of their work and its importance in current world-wide debates in which such disagreements are aired and discussed.  I believe that the reputation of your institution around the world will be severely tarnished if you proceed with this planned closure.  I am confident you will receive many letters such as this, and trust that you will be at least somewhat gratified to realize the reputation you are putting at risk.  I am very happy to add my voice to the many I am sure will be urging you to reconsider this disastrous decision.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Bennington, MA, DPhil (Oxon)
Asa G. Candler Professor of Modern French Thought
Chair, Department of Comparative Literature
Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.
Tel: +1 404-727-2262

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