The University and the Real World (Take the ‘A’ Train)

by Mark Chmiel

I recently came across this from Amiri Baraka in Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling’s collection of essays, Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School

For those of us in the arts or the universities, those of us involved with the institutions and ideas of the U.S. superstructure, we must see that the only positive direction we can go, that is the direction of life supported over death, is cultural revolution. We must oppose the reinstitution of the racist canon, like we resist part 25 of Friday the 13th or Rambo 11.

For instance, we must join forces to socialize the university and all institutions that affect our lives. By socialize I mean to make the university deal with real life and the actual society in which it stands. If the university is the repository for higher learning, advanced philosophy, and innovative technology, why are the cities in which they stand so bereft of these resources? There is no other way to measure ideas’ usefulness except in the crucible of real life.

The university professor is never made to measure his ideals in relationship to the real world, in relation to how much change (i.e., human advance) or how close to reality the world measures those  ideas to be, but is valorized only by the abstract and frankly elitist interacademic dialogue. We publish for each other or to get tenure, we create and do research for the same reasons.  While the great challenge, real life, real society, stands ailing and ill because our resources have been removed.

You learn more in a bar or sitting there looking at stuff on a wall or listening to music than you do from some lecture. I teach music for instance simply by putting on a record in the hallway in my department with the music playing. And it plays all the time. And people come by there, you know, they’re going someplace else, they’re not going there. And they say, “Professor, what is that?” I say, “That’s Duke Ellington.” “Oh yeah, who’s that?”  What I’m saying is that even the most minute aspect of our lives has to be an arena in which we struggle to create an alternative to this.

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