From The Politics of Research. Eds. E. Ann Kaplan and George Levine. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997. 21-33.
My opening assumption is a simple one: the age of theory to which our panel title refers is an age in which we are increasingly uncertain about the objects of our study. Now this is something of a paradox, since the function of theory since the Enlightenment has always been that of grounding, or legitimating, study with greater certainty. Once we recognize that we are in an age of theory, however, things change, since our problem is no longer that of deciding which theory will most securely ground our activities. If we are in an age of theory it is because we know there are many theories, and the problem is one of navigating among them rather than choosing one route. So I understand that theory comes of age when the crisis of legitimation requires to be theorized. This means that the age of theory, as I wish to comprehend it, is neither a "coming of age" (a story of emancipation) nor an entry into a golden age (a story of redemption).
To ask the question of the human sciences in this context is to run a considerable risk. In the seventies we were (at least, I was) inclined to believe that a mixture of Marxism, psychoanalysis, and semiotics might prove sufficiently volatile to fuel Molotov cocktails. The combination is now sufficiently stabilized to be available over the counter from your local literature department, under a variety of brand names or under the generic label, "cultural studies." If we are to take the measure of the human sciences in the age of theory then it seems to me that we have to recognize that the grounds on which we used to make large claims for the humanities have been undermined. Unless we want to end up like the British, who could not resist Thatcherite cuts because they could in fact find no better argument for the humanities than vague appeals to "human richness" in a world in which leisure has already become the primary site of capitalist penetration (as Disney and the Olympics attest). It seems to me that we have to think very carefully about what it is the academic study called the human sciences can be, and that any such reflection must include a reflection on the institution of that study, the university.
In this context, Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind seems to me to be more in touch with reality than the liberal nostrums of Jakob Pelikan in his The Idea of the University, which recalls us to a lost mission of liberal education.  Bloom's conservative jeremiad at least recognizes that the autonomy of knowledge as an end in itself is threatened, because there is no longer a subject that might incarnate this principle: Hence his repeated ridiculing of what goes on in the university as unintelligible and irrelevant to any student (read young white male American student). The story of what Bloom calls "the adventure of a liberal education" (336) no longer has a hero. What I want to discuss today is how we are to reconceive the university once the story of liberal education has lost its organizing center: the idea of culture as the object of the human sciences, both their origin and their telos.
So what are the human sciences to talk about in the age of theory, if not the adventure of liberal education! The recent rise of the quasi discipline of "cultural studies" within the university, which promises to install a new paradigm for the humanities that will either unite the traditional disciplines (this is Anthony Easthope's argument) or replace them (this is Cary Nelson's argument) as the living center of intellectual inquiry, restoring the social mission of the university.  It seems to me that the idea of cultural studies arises at the point when the notion of culture ceases to mean anything vital for the university as a whole. The human sciences can do what they like with culture, can do cultural studies, because culture no longer matters as an idea for the institution. In its place "excellence" has become the unifying principle of the contemporary university: Everyone is for excellence. Who could be against it! Thus, for example, the Faculty of Graduate Studies of the University of Montreal describes itself as follows:
Created in 1972, the Faculty of Graduate Studies [Faculte des etudes superieures] has been entrusted with the mission of maintaining and promoting standards of excellence at the level of master's and doctoral studies; of coordinating teaching and standardizing [normalization] programs of graduate study; of stimulating the development and coordination of research in liaison with the research departments of the University; of favoring the creation of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary programs. 
Note here the intersection of excellence with "integration and standardization" and the appeal to the "interdisciplinary. " The original French "normalization" gives a strong sense of what is at stake in "standardization" (especially to those familiar with the work of Michel Foucault). Excellence responds very well to the needs of technological capitalism in the production and processing of information, in that it allows for the increasing integration of all activities into a generalized market, while permitting a large degree of flexibility and innovation at the local level. Excellence is thus the integrating principle that allows "diversity" (the other watchword of the university prospectus) to be tolerated without threatening the unity of the system.
The point is not that no one knows what excellence is but that everyone has his or her own idea of what it is, and once it has been generally accepted as an organizing principle, there is no need to argue about differing definitions. Everyone is excellent, in their own way, and everyone has more of a stake in being left alone to be excellent than in intervening in the administrative process. There is a clear parallel here to the condition of the political subject under late capitalism. Excellence draws only one boundary: the boundary that protects the unrestricted power of the bureaucracy. And if a particular department's kind of excellence fails to conform, then that department can be eliminated without apparent risk to the system. This has been, for example, the fate of many Classics departments. It is beginning to happen to philosophy.
Excellence, that is, exposes the premodern traditions of the university to the full force of market capitalism. Barriers to free trade are swept away. In these terms, we can understand cultural studies as becoming possible when culture ceases to be the principle of study in the university and instead becomes an object among others for the system to deal with. In saying this, I want to join with Rey Chow in questioning, from a sympathetic point of view, the unqualified acceptance of both interdisciplinary activity and of cultural studies that has been fairly common among academic radicals.  We can be interdisciplinary in the name of excellence, because excellence only preserves preexistent disciplinary boundaries insofar as they make no larger claim on the entirety of the system and pose no obstacle to its growth and integration.
To put this another way, the appeal to excellence marks the fact that there is no longer any idea of the university, or rather that the idea has now lost all content. Excellence is nonreferential, a unit of value entirely internal to the system, which marks nothing more than the moment of technology's self-reflection. All the system requires is for activity to take place, and the empty notion of excellence refers to nothing other than the optimal input/ output ratio in matters of information. This is perhaps a less heroic role than we are accustomed to claim for the university, although it does resolve the question of parasitism. The university is now no more of a parasitical drain on resources than the stock exchange or the insurance companies. Like the stock exchange, the university is a point of capital's self-knowledge, of capital's ability not just to manage risk or diversity but to extract a surplus value from that management.
So how are we to think of the institution of the university, in which we find ourselves? It is clear that I do not think that in the university we can ever "find ourselves," come into our birthright, achieve the pure auto-affection that brings thought to an end in the virtual presence of an entirely self-knowing and autonomous subject. Yet such a notion of self-finding has been, throughout the modern age, the grand narrative of the function of the university. The subject of human history strives for autonomy, for the self-knowledge that will free it from the chains of the past, from its debts to a nature and to a language that are not of its own making. Kant thought we could find ourselves as entirely reasonable; the German Idealists thought we could find ourselves as an ethnic culture; the technocrats of today think we can find ourselves as "most excellent," if I may be permitted to cite Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure--a film that is an interesting attempt to understand the impossibility of historical thought once knowledge has itself become commodified as information. The university becomes modern when it takes on responsibility for working out the relation between the subject and the state, when it offers to incarnate an idea that will both theorize and inculcate this relationship. This is its dual mission of research and teaching, and if the latter has always lagged behind the former in terms of real service performed for the state, this is hardly surprising.
The characteristic of the modern university is to have an idea, a referent. In the medieval university, the order of disciplines reflected the orders of knowledge in the seven liberal arts, divided up into the trivium (of grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music). This division is Aristotelian, a principle of separation according to the nature of the matter to be studied, which requires no immanent unifying principle. Indeed the unifying principle of the medieval university is theological, and thus lies elsewhere, only intervening as external censorship of the temporal by the spiritual. What distinguishes the modern university is a universal unifying principle that is immanent to the university. Kant ushers in the modernity of the university by naming this principle as reason, which is to say that reason provides a ratio between the disciplines, and reason has its own discipline, that of philosophy, the lower faculty.
I will sketch the history of the modern university by saying that the modern university has had three ideas: the Kantian idea of reason, the Humboldtian notion of culture, and now the technological idea of excellence. The distinguishing feature of the last on this list is that it lacks all referentiality. If you want a practical example, think of what a university president is supposed to do. In the Kantian university, his or her function is the purely disciplinary one of making decisive judgments in inter-faculty conflicts on the grounds of reason alone. In the university founded on culture, the president incarnates a pandisciplinary ideal of general cultural orientation, becoming the figure of the university itself (nineteenth-century figures such as Charles Eliot Norton or Benjamin Jowett spring to mind here). As Friedrich Schleiermacher put it, the true "idea" of a rector is that of a single individual who can stand metaphorically for the university in the eyes of the world while remaining metonymically connected to the rest of the faculty. Primus inter pares, such a president figures the double function of culture as animating principle of the university, both gradual Bildung and revealed unity of social meaning, both metonymy and metaphor. In the university of excellence, however, a president is a bureaucratic administrator who moves effortlessly from the lecture hall, to the sports stadium, to the executive lounge. From judge, to synthesizer, to executive and fund raiser.
A clue to the decisive quality of the German university model can be found if we examine the three levels at which thought is embodied according to Kant: the individual researcher, the university, and the academy at large. In a sense, the Kantian University of Reason is modeled upon the individual researcher, perhaps despite Kant's wishes. The conflict of faculties is entirely analogous to the conflict between tradition and reason, superstition and enlightenment, that supposedly goes on in the breast of every truly fervent seeker after knowledge. By contrast, in the contemporary University of Excellence, the model of the academy rules with the process we know as "professionalization," bringing about the increasing integration of functions so that research is nonreferential, ever more indistinguishable from the mere reproduction of the system. That is to say, there is an increasing convergence of research, teaching, and professional training within the system.
This is a generalization, but it explains the deep pull of a book as ill-considered as Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. What Bloom seems to have realized, although he has little idea about it, is that culture is no longer the watchword of the university. To put it another way, the university is no longer Humboldt's, and that means it is no longer the university. The Germans not only founded a university and gave it a mission; they also made the university into the decisive instance for intellectual activity.
The University of Culture, instituted by Humboldt, draws its legitimacy from culture, which names the synthesis of teaching and research, process and product, history and reason, philology and criticism, historical scholarship and aesthetic experience, the institution and the individual. Thus the revelation of the idea of culture and the development of the individual are one: Object and process unite organically, and the place they unite is the university, which thus gives the people an idea of the nation-state to live up to and the nation-state a people capable of living up to that idea. The university seeks to embody thought as action toward an ideal, the state must seek to realize action as thought, the idea of the nation. The state protects the action of the university, the university safeguards the thought of the state. Each strives to realize the idea of national culture.
The growth of technology switches the question of social unification: Fragmentation is no longer the result of a specific problem of German nationhood but appears as the general threat posed by industrialization. Hence literature replaces philosophy as the means of preserving an ethnic identity and uniting it with an idea of historical progress that appears dangerously transnational. Matthew Amold and E R. Leavis offer an idea of literary culture that could synthesize the preindustrial, organic community and the technology of mass communication so as to establish a culture that would be transparent to itself--and as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe has shown, such was the aim of Nazi national aestheticism.  Not just the aim of providing a Volk with Volkswagens but providing a nation as the technological expression of the organic community that marks the Volk. In these terms the opposition of the organic to the technological is overcome. Culture turns technology into the mode of self-knowledge of a people, and it also turns the organicism of the lost community into a living principle of identity rather than a closed system, opening the community toward self-knowledge as a project rather than shutting it back into self-satisfaction. As a result, the village and technology are made into one as "organic culture."
I do not say this in order to accuse Leavis or Amold of fascism. I do want to say, however, that the University of Culture is ineluctably caught up in this organicism. Wolf Lepenies and Jurgen Habermas have each sought to preserve the idea of culture against the Nazi catastrophe by stripping it of the residue of organicism.  Respectively, they replace the idea of culture with sociology and communicative rationality as the instance entrusted with the task of unifying knowledges. The structure of the German Idealist argument is preserved; however, cultural synthesis is not guaranteed by the revelation of an idea but by a practice of social communication directed not toward the absolute but toward consensus. Community is not grounded in organic identity but in rational communication. In turn, this neatly parallels the development of the canon debate in the United States, since it is the claim that buttresses Stanley Fish's call for "business as usual" under the aegis of an interpretative community--a horizon of rational consensus rather than a cultural identity. 
Let me sum up the argument on the University of Culture by saying that it is grounded in a notion of communicative transparency. For the German Idealists, this allows the fusion of ethnic community and absolute idea. This takes place at multiple levels. Pedagogically, Johann Gottlieb Fichte refers to teaching as the self-unveiling of the students to the professors and of the professors to the students. This is nothing to do with classroom nudity, but with a dialogue that is supposed to fuse the teachers and the students into a single corporate body with "a common spiritual existence ... in which they have learned early on to know each other in depth and to respect each other, where all their reflections take off from a base that is identically known by all and which provides no matter for dispute among them."  This is the community of the university, the endless dialogue of which Humboldt and Schleiermacher speak. Schleiermacher even makes the curious argument that the magisterial ex cathedra lecture course is a form of dialogue, a sanctuary that grounds the community of the university. This is because such a course displays the spirit of dialogue, even if it does not take on its external form: It awakens the idea of intellectual community in its hearers and enacts the process of knowledge rather than transmitting knowledge as a product. That is to say, communication is not the vehicle for transmitting positive knowledges, it is itself the enactment of the process of Bildung. The university community has its foundation in the capacity to share in a process of knowledge: Communication unites speaker and listener in the process of the revelation of the idea; it does not simply serve as a vehicle or bridge between them. Communication is expressive rather than transactional. This is because the idea is revealed objectively as science by the speaker (in his or her enactment of the process of knowledge acquisition) and subjectively as Bildung by the listener (in his or her awakening to the desire for consciousness).
In these terms, the positions of Habermas, Lepenies, and Fish on the university represent the giving up of the expressive claim for revelation and returning to a transactional model of communication. Unity is not expressed but implied negatively as the necessary positing of a horizon of consensus, which, although it may not be empirically realized, is nonetheless the necessary precondition for all acts of communication. Consensus replaces ethnic identity as the grounds of a unified idea of culture. This is the argument that is being played out as the debate on the canon. And in the case of cultural studies, a horizon of political consensus does at times seem to fulfill a parallel function.
Thinking about what to do instead is more of a problem. I must confess that I am attracted by Robert Young's classically deconstructive suggestion that the university, both inside and outside the market economy, should "function as a surplus that the economy cannot comprehend."  The binary opposition is there, and the university will deconstruct it by being neither simply useful nor simply useless. All very good, and very much what Humboldt wanted: indirect utility, direct uselessness for the state. If I find this an unsatisfactory conclusion to Young's fine study of John Cardinal Newman and Jeremy Bentham on the university, it is because it is still looking for a way to save the idea of the university by proposing a deconstructive idea--the idea of the supplement--that will function analogously to the idea of culture. We could even sell the idea by suggesting to the state that culture has always been a dangerous supplement anyway. I do not think that we can save the idea of the university by proposing new referents, even such troubling ones as the dangerous supplement. The technological university will reply by telling us to be excellently supplementary, by turning supplements into surplus value.
This does not mean that I want to blow up the university or resign my job. I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic, since I do not think that the temporality implied by such terms is appropriate. We need no new identity for the university. Rather we need to recognize that dereferentialization of the university's function opens a space in which we can think the notions of community and communication differently. It seems to me that a resistance to the technological university that does not ground itself in a pious claim to know the true referent of the university, the one that will redeem it, involves attention to three elements: to institutional practices, to the temporality of study, and to language as the opacity of a community that is not transparent to itself, that does not communicate. This is the dissensual community that has relinquished the regulatory ideal of communicational transparency. Here then are three slogans for a heteronomous cultural politics, the human sciences in the age of theory.
This is a different way to think about our relation to tradition than that proposed by the German Idealists (in which hermeneutic reworking returned the tradition to a new unity and vitality, a renaissance). It implies an institutional pragmatism, a pragmatism that owes much to Samuel Weber and little to Richard Rorty or Fish.  That is, we should not attempt to bring about a rebirth or renaissance of the university, but think of its ruins as the sedimentation of historical differences that remind us that thought cannot be present to itself. We live in an institution, and we live outside it. We work there, and we work with what we have to hand. The university is not going to save the world by making the world more true, nor is the world going to save the university by making the university more real. The question of the university is not that of how to achieve a stable or perfect relation between inside and outside, between the ivory tower and the streets.
So, let us treat the university as we treat institutions. After all, I do not need to believe a story about humanity (universal subject of history) creating power by taming nature and bending it to its will in order to switch on the light, nor does my incredulity mean that the light will go off. Nor does continuing to believe this story keep the light on if I cannot afford to pay my electric bill. Enlightenment has its price. Although this may seem to make light of institutions, it actually involves a political recognition that institutions have a weight that exceeds the beliefs of their clientele. What I mean by dwelling in ruins is not despair or cynicism; it is simply the abandonment of the religious attitude toward political action. Remember Leonard Cohen's dictum: "They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within."  Change comes neither from within nor from without, but from the difficult space, neither inside nor outside, where one is.
The transparent University of Culture had allowed the German Idealists to propose that the time of study was both a single moment and an eternity: the single moment of the awakening of consciousness and the eternity of absolute knowledge (and the awakening of consciousness at the time of redemption). What I am arguing for is, quite simply, a university without redemption. This means students who are not simply intellectuals or managerial professionals in waiting. Rather, the university implies the time of pedagogy: a thought or study in excess of the subject, which rejects the metanarrative of redemption.
What the campus radicals of 1968 had already realized was that the university should be analyzed as a bureaucratic system. The students madea series of claims about this. Their common thread was a resistance to the imposition of an analogy between the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities, and the production, distribution, and consumption of hnowledge. As students and teachers, we should protect the discomfort we feel at our situation. We should be very distrustful of any claims to have solved the problem of the university, of any panaceas that offer to resolve institutional problems, to let us forget the problem of the politico-institutional structures within, upon, and against which we work.
In May 1968 the students sought in the pedagogic relation the grounds for a new social orientation. Socrates knew that pedagogy took place under the sign of eros rather than of logos (sexual harassment is, of course, an example of the illegitimate attempt to unify eros and logos). The students refused a logocentric pedagogy, refused to reduce their activity of learning to either a matter of the transmission of information (a process of training for bureaucratic roles within the state) or a timeless and apolitical activity. And, at the same time, they refused to become intellectuals who claim to incarnate the logos, to speak for others because they have understood them fully in a way that they have not understood themselves. What some students know is that they do not even speak for themselves.
In this sense, what the student, or at least the student who thinks, knows is that further study is required. Students know both that they are not yet part of culture and that culture is already over, that it has preceded them. Neither nostalgia nor education can solve the students' malaise. They cannot simply mourn a lost culture (conservatism) nor can they forget the tradition and move on to build a bright new world (progressive modernism). The tradition can neither be lived as culture nor forgotten as superstition: neither Humboldt nor Kant. Socially displaced by the strange temporality of education, students provide a critique of the possibility that society might represent itself to itself, might define itself through the autonomous exercise of its own will. The pedagogic relation is not one of transparency, be it as expressive revelation (the German Idealists), as the transmission of information (the technocrats), or as the establishment of professional consensus (Fish and Habermas).
The modernist project of autonomy and universal communicability is not provisionally but fundamentally incomplete: No authority can terminate the pedagogic relation; no knowledge can save us thinking. In this sense, the posthistorical university can leave aside the presumption to unite authority and autonomy in a community unified by an idea; be it of reason, culture, communication, or profession.
 Anthony Easthope, Literary into Cultural Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), and Cary Nelson, "Always Already Cultural Studies: Two Conferences and a Manifesto," Journal of the Midwestern Modern Language Association 24, 1 (Spring 1991).
 Publicity brochure of the Universite de Montreal, October 1, 1992 (published by the Direction des communications, Universite de Montreal), my translation. The original reads as follows:
Creee en 1972, la Faculte des etudes superieures a pour mission de maintenir et de promouvoir des standards d'excellence au niveau des etudes de maitrise et de doctorat; de coordonner l'enseignement et la normalization des programmes d'etudes superieures; de stimuler le developpement et la coordination de la recherche en liaison avec les unites de recherche de l'Universite; de favoriser la creation de programmes interdisciplinaires ou multidisciplinaires. Rey Chow, in "The Politics and Pedagogy of Asian Literatures in American Universities," differences 2, 3 (1990), has provided some useful reminders of how the turn to cultural studies in the teaching of Asian literature can function as a conservative strategy: "When scholars are departmentalized simply because they are all 'doing' 'China,' Japan,' or 'India' what actually happens is the predication of so-called 'interdisciplinarity' on the model of the colonial territory and the nation state" (40). Chow makes a convincing argument that the consideration of Asian literatures in terms of general culture is a marginalizing gesture that locates the Asian "only in the universalist language of 'interdisciplinarity,' 'cross-cultural plurality,' etc., in which it becomes a localized embellishment of the general narrative" (36). Like myself, Chow is not simply dismissing interdisciplinarity or cultural studies; what she does is provide a strong example of how the organization of the humanities is part of a process that she calls, following Edward Said, "informationalization."
 Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, La Fiction du politique (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1987); Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (1868), ed. J. Dover Wilson (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1932); F. R. Leavis, "The Idea of a University," in Education and the University (1943) (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
 Wolf Lepenies, Between Science and Literature (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Jurgen Habermas, "The Idea of the University," The New Conservatism, ed. and tr. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989).
 Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980).
 Johann Gottlieb Fichte, "Deductive Plan of an Institution of Higher Learning to be Founded in Berlin" (1807, pub. 1817) in Philosophies de l'Universite: l'idealisme allemand et la question de l'universite, eds. Luc Ferry, J. P Pesron, and Alain Renault (Paris: Payot, 1979), 180-181, my translation. The original German version, Deduzierter Plan einer zu Berlin zu errichtenden hoheren Lehranstalt, die in gehoriger Verbindung mit einer Akademie der Wissenschaften stehe, can be found in Engel et al., Gelegentliche Gedanken uber Universitaten, ed. Ernst Muller (Leipzig: Reclam Verlag, 1990), 59-159.
 Robert Young, "The Idea of a Chrestomathic University," in Logomachia: The Conflict of the Faculties, ed. Richard Rand (Lincoln, Nebr.: The University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 122.
 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York and London: Norton, 1961), 16-17. Freud insists that the simple figure of the building constructed from ruins is inadequate because it fails to convey the sense that, in the unconscious, two buildings from heterogeneous historical periods are impossibly present. The past is not erased but haunts the present.
 See Samuel Weber, Institution and Interpretation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), esp. ch. 2, "The Limits of Professionalism"; Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Stanley Fish, There's No Such Thing as Free Speech: And It's A Good Thing Too (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
 Leonard Cohen, "First We Take Manhattan," from I'm Your Man (CBS Records, 1988).