RAELITY – Simon Wortham

The main purpose of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) is to enable the higher education funding bodies to distribute public funds for research selectively on the basis of quality. Institutions conducting the best research receive a larger proportion of the available grant so that the infrastructure for the top level of research in the UK is protected and developed. The RAE assesses the quality of research in universities and colleges in the UK. It takes place every four to five years and the next exercise will be held in 2001. Around £5 billion of research funds will be distributed in response to the results of the 2001 RAE. The RAE provides quality ratings for research across all disciplines. Panels use a standard scale to award a rating for each submission. Ratings range from 1 to 5, according to how much of the work is judged to reach national or international levels of excellence. Higher education institutions (HEIs) which take part receive grants from one of the four higher education funding bodies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. (From the RAE 2001 website at: http://www.rae.ac.uk)

Things you might (try to) count on: deadlines, dates, numbers:

1. Rather like the widely paraded discourse of the last man, the end of history and philosophy, the death of the author and the tomb of the intellectual, the idea of the university in ruins has been so exhaustively repeated of late that it is already beginning to feel (to quote a little ‘out of joint’ or out of context) ‘like a tiresome anachronism’ (Derrida, 1994: 15). Or, at least, even if everyone were to agree that Bill Readings’ enormously influential discussion of the University of Excellence remains timely, the idea or story itself seems in danger of becoming old hat. A story of newness, radical departure and ‘post-historical’ transformation, recounted at the end of the twentieth century, already going stale. Time ‘out of joint’. Fitting perhaps.

2. Nevertheless, for old times’ sake, let’s repeat it one more time. The university is in ruins. The rise of transnational corporate institutions has hastened the decline of modernity’s nation-states, leaving the university bereft of cultural legitimacy or ideological rationale such as was established after the Enlightenment. Faced with this predicament, the university has uncritically adopted corporate thinking and language. It has embraced customer-orientation, quality assurance, and the logics and practices of excellence. It has disregarded any fundamental concern for the content of its activities, giving itself over to a pure performativity that marks and re-marks itself only as the experience of ‘technology’s self-reflection’ (Readings, 1996: 39). Through the commodification of its practices of knowledge-exchange, the university has swiftly repositioned itself according to the needs and demands of globalised late capitalism. (Now we’re getting in the swing of things.)

3. Thus, despite the ‘dereferentialisation’ of today’s university with regard to any Idea or foundational principle, some might say that – at long last – this quaintly archaic, antiquated institution has been forced to face up to reality. It has been made to submit to the reality of the marketplace, to address the reality of vocational needs and social partnership, to accept the reality of modernisation, accountability and democratisation, etc. Always more than one reality, of course. . . but let’s leave this aside for the present moment (if there is one). The university facing up to reality, to realities, then. About time, too! Even though the (coming of) age of the ruined university implies a somewhat ghostly renaissance, the era of excellence, born virtually of the millennium’s last minute, appears to be characterised by the very timeliness of its time. So what, if the story of the University of Excellence is becoming old hat, out-of-joint with excellence’s very time(liness) – who needs stories, retelling, recounting of any sort, when you’ve got (a) reality that adds up to and fits (with) itself?

4. The age or time of excellence underscores the precisionistic punctuality of its coming precisely by means of an assiduous regard for dates and deadlines, needless to say. These structure and regulate (punctuate) the seemingly seamless repetitive work of its ensemble of evaluative devices and machineries. Dates and deadlines underpin and mobilise its performance indicators, its monitoring tools, its assessment exercises. By such means, excellence carves up time, arrives on time, in time. The time, at last, of reality. The R.A.E., it goes without saying, calibrates this last-minute experience of reality, the reality (not before time) of the university. R.A.E. – as beautifully punctual and punctuated as Lo-lee-ta, even though (to risk being crude) she comes before her time. Amid the ruins of the university, each and every letter of R.A.E. arrives dead on time, never mind the possibility that arriving is always conditional upon the chance of non-arrival, or that these dead letters might be delivered stillborn. The Research Assessment Exercise in the UK, just in the nick of time, demanding delivery on-time and on time, as live and real as it gets.

5. In fact, we’d do well to recognise the services done by the R.A.E. in the name of Reality. The very midwife of Reality, our reality. Let’s honour her, then, by naming the time, the age, the era of excellence, thus: ‘R.A.E.lity’. No harm, on second thoughts, in losing the punctuation, since it is precisely the ‘punctuative’ that the R.A.E. so neatly defines, and that so neatly defines the R.A.E. Goes without saying. No need for an articulation only superficially expressed by punctuation marks. RAElity, then. No damage done, when you think about it, removing upper case initials except in the case of the first capital, since every empire of every age needs to know where its capital is, to build and begin from there. First and only capital. There can be only one. All roads lead to Rome.1 So, Raelity.

6. There might be a slight problem, though, with the Reality of Raelity, the Raelity of Reality. Raelity skews, distorts, mis-sorts the Reality it serves, mis-spells the present spell of the Real. The temporality of the letter, and thus of the law (the letter of the law), of Reality is subjected to a disjunction going beyond a mere typographical error. Unless we allow the possibility that ‘Reality’ is actually in error, is disjunct: after all, everyone knows ‘a’ comes before ‘e’ in the alphabet. ‘Raelity’ might thus reveal that ‘Reality’ mis-spells itself. (What is the time of a spell?) Always ‘a’ before ‘e’. ‘Raelity’ before ‘Reality’, then. So late in the day, yet just in time, ‘Raelity’ comes first so as to expose the temporal disjunction, the anachrony, of Reality itself (to itself). Coming before Reality, in a dictionary yet to come, Raelity begins by coming back: this is the spectre of the R.A.E. Maybe, however, with astounding literalness, ‘Raelity’ radicalises or presses to an extremity the ‘timely’ and the ‘punctual’ (always ‘a’ before ‘e’). It perhaps radicalises the ‘timely’, so bound up with notions of urgency, contingency and the real, to the point where it appears to be continually in deconstruction.

7. There are those who come late to higher education after a spell in the other ‘real world’, the other of our ‘real world’. They will often tell you that the language of excellence (with all its reality-effects) which now passes muster in the university has been around in the private sector almost as long as anyone can remember. Indeed, outside the university, its star is very much on the wane, they say; going on to point out that its recent adoption in the realm of the university is therefore laughably outdated, woefully anachronistic. But such tales, even though told by latecomers (those who were at the party long before we arrived), don’t do justice to the anachrony of the R.A.E. – to a Raelity fundamentally out of synch with Reality, yet at the same time reflecting and exposing its very disjointedness.

8. If the story of the University of Excellence, once so terrifically new (it seems only a moment ago), has with astonishing rapidity become old news, perhaps we still need to go back to Readings (we are not done reading him yet), to see whether The University in Ruins anticipates or senses this fractured, implosive, anachronistic temporality of the institution’s time in any way. To see whether Reading’s book is simply susceptible to the structure and force of anachrony, or whether it productively utilises and deploys anachronism at the moment it inhabits, dwells within the (ruins of the) university. (Does it ever belong there?) Whether The University in Ruins, if we can say this, preprogrammes anachrony (the anachrony which, before too long, was bound to dog it) in its very thinking of the university. (Pre-pro-gramme: think about the etymology and articulation of these phonemes for a moment.) Anachrony before its time, we might then say. How fitting that would be. A book that already is to come.

9. Of course, in an obvious way, Readings’ book is indelibly marked by an anachrony that relates not only to the histories of its reception, but to its own reception of and receptivity to history. While the University of Excellence is, according to Readings, ‘posthistorical’, in a certain way out of time, beyond the historical time of modernity, its conditions of possibility and production nevertheless entail a certain teleology or chronology – that is, an historical, epochal narrative of succession (‘reason-culture-excellence’), cemented in and by the very structure of his book (‘reason-culture. . . The dead lines of history?). At one level, this seems to indicate that Readings’ thinking on the question of the academic institution is simply contradictory. However, a more thoughtful consideration of this apparent inconsistency might allow us to say that, being at one and the same time historical and post- or non-historical, Readings’ University of Excellence is, precisely, anachronistic, (in and) out of time with itself.

10. The University in Ruins reveals anachronies of the university in other, perhaps more complex ways, too. Readings suggests the decline, at the end of the twentieth century, of long-standing expressivist or synecdochic relations between individual and community, discipline and university and, crucially, university and nation-state. These kinds of relations underpin the thinking of, for example, the ‘human’, the ‘social’, and the determination of ‘rights’ as an expression of modernity after Enlightenment. Such a decline therefore brings about the erosion of a notion of communicative community in the university as advocated by the German Idealists, one that founds a tradition of the very Idea of the university which runs all the way through to the likes of Habermas. Amid the ruins of communicative community, then, Readings envisages the possibilities of a ‘community of dissensus’. This – perhaps impossibly fluid – grouping would found itself on a rather groundless commitment to ‘thinking without identity’ (Readings, 1996: 127). The midwife, or parent even, of such a dissensual community would be none other, of course, than the ‘dereferentialised’ University of Excellence itself, now utterly Idea-less, entirely unconcerned with the grounding and coherence of its contents. Yet such a community of dissensus, insofar as it would be characterised by the activity of ‘thinking without identity’, could only produce research findings and ‘objects’ for study that were ‘systematically incapable of closure’ (Readings, 1996: 128). Thus it would necessarily be incompatible with the strictly calibrated measure of excellence, the latter demanding delivery on-time and on time. The dissensual community would therefore not simply be a dissenting one, engaged in full-frontal opposition with regard to today’s academic institutions. As a product or offspring of the ruined University of Excellence, it would mark and re-mark the disoriented non-self-identicality of the contemporary institution, its incommensurability with itself. Or, to put it another way, it would expose and indeed enact the ‘two-left-footedness’ of today’s university. This would not only mean that the evaluative thinking of dissensual communities would transvalue the evaluations of excellence. It would demonstrate, once more, the out-of-joint-ness of excellence with itself. Or, rather, excellence/dissensus. The anachrony of its time. For an anachronism is not simply that which is profoundly out of step or out of time with an era or age. More complexly, it is formed of a strange mixture of belonging and non-belonging. An anachronism does not belong to a time precisely by virtue of belonging to it. It is this anachrony that dissensus inscribes within the time of excellence, puncturing punctuality. And Readings’ book – when read as a meditation on (perhaps even an enactment of) the anachrony that was bound subsequently to define it – belongs profoundly, by dint of its non-belonging (to a time), in the university, to the university (for all time?).

11. Despite all the performance indicators, then, the University of Excellence seems to have two left feet (excellence/dissensus as non-self-identical doubles: undecidably two left or two right feet of the university; never simply a right and a left). The university ‘walks on two feet’, undecidably two left or two right feet – just the motif Derrida has used, in ‘Mochlos’, to describe the founding and footing of the Enlightenment university as a ‘parliamentary faculty’ envisaged by Kant in The Conflict of the Faculties. In this sense, the University of Excellence was always going to deliver old news. News: that is, more than one species of newness. News, at least twofold, doubling the new, although perhaps not quite two, more than one but less than two, more or less than two: excellence and dissensus. Such news already old, then, as old as Kant.

12.Or Hegel.2 But what is the age of Hegel?


‘. . . and if I may be permitted to evoke my own experience . . . I remember having learned, in my twelfth year – destined as I was to enter the theological seminary of my country – Wolf’s definitions of the so-called idea clara and that, in my fourteenth year, I had assimilated all the figures and rules of syllogism. And I still know them.’ And he still knows them. Hegel in his twelfth year. You can see the scene from here.

(This is Derrida, in 1986, on the first page of his essay ‘The Age of Hegel’, quoting Hegel’s letter of April 16, 1822, ‘To the Royal Ministry of Spiritual, Academic, and Medical Affairs’.)

How timely! A fortunate coincidence.

Except it takes an/other one (no.13, i.e. 12 + 1) to indicate the coincidence of the question (no.12) with the answer: Hegel, between his twelfth year, when he’s eleven, and his fourteenth year, when he’s thirteen, must be twelve (you’ll notice I’m careful to remember to subtract one from the year to get the real age of Hegel). A lot of dates and numbers here, but can we reliably count (on) them? One minute adding, the next subtracting, to count in the very same way on the coincidence of the number with the age. (Excellence counts on just this coincidence of the number with the age. The R.A.E. is an adding machine in and of the age of Excellence. Raelity does a real number on time.) Is there already the hint of another mathematics coming into play here?

Still, on the other hand, between the twelfth and fourteenth year, Hegel in a certain way tells (out) his age, the very age of Hegel. But also, perhaps, in a somewhat nostalgic frame of mind, he gives away his age, lets it show or slip. (In 1822 he is fifty-two years old.) Between his twelfth and fourteenth year, then. Is thirteen our lucky number after all? (I mean the thirteenth year, not of course the age thirteen. In terms of the age, our thirteen is really a twelve.) Or do things slide at thirteen, a slippery slope?

14. Thank goodness, we seem to have got past or beyond that passage (an untimely interruption, an unilluminating interval, the blink of an eye). The passage, that is, from twelve to fourteen (where we are now, of course) – which, in turn, marks the passage from childhood to adulthood (the fourteenth year, the age thirteen, teen-age). It seemed to take an age. Perhaps now we can grow up a bit, stop playing around. Although, of course, we’ll have to go back to it. Especially if to add is to subtract, in the strange mathematics of number and of age being played out here. Coming or going back to thirteen, just as Hegel does (or did, or will do) in full maturity, with all his ‘great works’ behind him.

15. In his twelfth year, or perhaps between twelfth and fourteenth year, he was already a philosopher, then. In one respect, this image of Hegel as a child reinforces what Derrida calls, a little later in his essay, a ‘naturalist mystification’, positing ‘the bare truth of an “infant” always already ready to philosophize and naturally capable of doing so’ (Derrida, 1986: 7). Philosophy, on a certain view, as perhaps the discipline for children – no wonder Hegel’s age, in so far as we can be definite about it, is twelve, will have remained twelve! On the other hand, though, Hegel at twelve is, of course, not yet a philosopher. Not just because his all great works are still to come. As Derrida suggests, in the Hegelian system or philosophy itself, the dialectics of negation and completion posit a complexly inextricable relation between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. As Derrida puts it, in a way that links the more with the less obvious point, ‘in view of the corpus of the complete works of his maturity, this already will have been a not yet’ (Derrida, 1986: 3). The whimsical autobiographical anecdote turns out to provide a serious demonstration, ‘treating the issue of (the) age as a figure in the phenomenology of the mind, as a moment in the logic’ (Derrida, 1986: 4). So, already-not-yet a philosopher (and not just at twelve). Derrida tells us that the ‘conceptual, dialectical, speculative structure’ of this already-not-yet needs to be thought through before we can understand anything ‘about the age (for example, that of Hegel). Or about any age whatsoever, but especially and par excellence that of philosophy or for philosophy’ (Derrida, 1986: 3-4). (The age of) Philosophy doesn’t quite add up (at any age). If our passage is anything to go by, certainly not according to simple maths (which, of course, is supposedly the province of His Excellency Raelity).

16. Remember, all this is going on in a letter to the Ministry of Spiritual, Academic and Medical Affairs. (Remember, Hegel remembers what he already remembered in his twelfth year.) All this is going on, by way of such a letter. The letter is part of a special report commissioned by the Ministry, ‘by a State bureaucracy in the process of organizing the nationalization of the structures of philosophical education by extracting it, based on a historical compromise, from clerical jurisdiction’, Derrida reminds us (Derrida, 1986: 4). Not just a ‘minor’ text, then, but a significant landmark in a statist problematics of education, or of modernity’s institution of reason.3 While Hegel may well have thought that the rationality of philosophical instruction might ‘culminate most universally and most powerfully in the concept of the State’ (Derrida, 1986: 5), his recollection of (the age of) childhood, and of the already-not-yet of philosophy – at once a matter of private confidence, philosophical demonstration and public address – finds Hegel foundering, ‘advancing or foundering, with more or less confidence, in the techno-bureaucratic space of a highly determined State’. A State to come, for philosophy or by way of philosophy, which, for philosophy, nevertheless already is. In such a state, in relation to such a State (already is to come) no wonder Hegel advances and founders at once, to’s and fro’s, ‘with more or less confidence’. Again, we might remark the simultaneity of this ‘more’ and ‘less’, the simultaneity of addition and deduction as the characteristic feature of an apparently (although only apparently) self-same state, the state (State) of Hegel, which has everything to do with his age. In letters to the Minister written during the same period, Hegel frets over the State’s provision for him in his old age, and for the family after his death. Hegel is in a state, when he thinks of his age (now adding years on instead of taking them away, although still during the same period of 1822 of course), and he wants – however impossibly – to be definite about numbers, specifically about sums (fittingly, though, these are described by Hegel as ‘supplementary revenues’). He wants to be sure about his currency (in both a broad and narrow sense) with the State.

Narrowly, he wants assurances of money for the future (insurance), in the interests, supposedly, of future philosophical research. ‘I dare anticipate the realization of these benevolent promises only in connection with Your Excellency’s noble plans for the development of knowledge and the education of the young, and I regard the improvement of my own economic situation only as a subordinate element in this totality’, writes Hegel (quoted in Derrida, 1986: 13). Ring any bells?

But how can one be sure that the age of Hegel, or indeed of philosophy, is current with the State (or, indeed, the state) Hegel finds himself in, ‘advancing’ and ‘foundering’, more or less? A State or state that already is to come. Raising again the spectre of the R.A.E., the mis-sorted temporality of (a State-sponsored) Raelity, and the question of its currency and its sums. A timely reminder.

17. This moment of a State-sponsored, possibly ‘techno-bureaucratic’ institutional reformation of philosophical education does not just belong to the age of Hegel, of course. It also relates to the age of Derrida. To his involvement with GREPH during the 1980s, going towards a report to the French government on the reformation of philosophy’s pedagogy and institution. The latter involving the question of the age of philosophical education, in at least its double sense – forming more or less the brunt of ‘The Age of Hegel’. And, in Raelity, relating to our age, today. And no doubt, to the future R.A.E., 2001, and beyond. Already-not-yet: is this temporality, already, or yet, Hegelian?

‘There is a Hegelian hierarchization, but it is circular, and the minor is always carried, sublated . . . beyond the opposition, beyond the limit of inside and outside in(to) the major. And inversely. The potency of this age without age derives from this great empirico-philosophical cycle’ (Derrida, 1986: 33). And yet, according to the temporality at work both in the vicinity of Derrida’s reflections on ‘The Age of Hegel’ and my own essay on ‘Raelity’, we do not seem to be able to count on things coming full-circle within a self-realising totality. (As I will go on to suggest, R is never quite R.) Nevertheless, the doubling of the pronoun in the formulation ‘age without age’ is itself telling, as it posits a repetition with a difference, indicated of course by the preposition ‘without’. Far from underlining an a-temporal structure or cycle of recurrence, ‘age without age’ in fact suggests the non-self-identicality or non-coincidence of the ‘age’ of Hegel with itself, a sharply disjointed temporality, along the lines perhaps of the mis-sorted time of Raelity.

Hegel remembers, and remembers himself remembering, not just mechanistically, formalistically, via ‘mechanical memorization’ (Derrida, 1986: 18) of the kind that allows for the repetition of syllogisms – although he does in part remember this way (of remembering). But neither does recollection, for Hegel, happen simply via or within the processes of a speculative, ‘organic’ development of thought in its totality, as the autobiographical anecdote reveals. What kind of rhythms are played out between these two, on the basis of this problematic, with regard to the very project, the entire system, of speculative dialectics? The rhythms of a blink of an eye? We’ll leave this motif hanging there, in the dark, for a moment.

Today, already, the memory of Philosophy cannot simply or wholly oppose itself to mechanistic recounting of the kind counted on by the R.A.E. That is, to a numbers game. This remains true, I think, even at the most minimal level, despite the fact that, as Derrida remarks, the GREPH had been ‘quick to criticize’ the practice, inherited in a certain way from Hegel’s imperatives, of ‘beginning with teaching the content of knowledge, before even thinking it’ – a teaching based on a mechanistic memorisation as the prephilosophical pedagogic mode, which in turn assures ‘a highly determined prephilosophical inculcation’ (Derrida, 1986: 26). For Derrida, such pedagogy is deeply inscribed and engrained as part of the statist problematics of education within modernity, denying or postponing (in the Hegelian version, among others) ‘access to thought – in its speculative form – of something whose content is already present [prior to this thought] . . . In other words, philosophy proper is excluded, but its content continues to be taught, albeit in an improperly philosophical form, in a nonphilosophical manner . . . This schema, so familiar by now, is one of the principal targets of the GREPH’ (Derrida, 1986: 31-2). Of course, Derrida is quite right to be wary of a mechanistic recounting – of the kind that informs Hegel’s memory of childhood memory – preceding and determining philosophical education. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the politics of Derrida’s essay are not simply reducible to strategies of full-frontal opposition, or dissent. They depend also on certain tactical engagements (albeit very knowing ones) with an established statist rationale of philosophical education derived in part from (if we can say this) the memory of Hegel. Thus, for philosophy to survive (‘as everyone knows – for example, since Hegel – that philosophy is finished’ (Derrida, 1986: 18)), the memory of philosophy cannot simply eschew or deny the adding machine, the calculated accretion or accumulation of content. In a sense, philosophy depends upon a kind of rhythmic attachment and detachment in relation to the entire machine, to another body, more or less other (a mother body, or other than mother?), giving ‘birth [to] philosophy in the age of European civil service’ (Derrida, 1986: 11). But such rhythmic play might yet trace within the workings of the machine (monstrous mother, or dead father?) another mathematics at work, not quite other, more or less other. In the blink of an eye. A mis-sort.

18. ‘On, then, on to R’. Eighteenth letter of the alphabet. A number that signals another coming of age. Manhood perhaps (Law of the Father). First letter of (the age of) Raelity, when we all grow up and face Reality. Forget, for a moment, the disarranged or rearranged vowels – we’ll come back to mis-sorted letters in a moment. Leaving that aside, how neatly coincidental all of this is, and how fitting. On, then, on, from the philosophical mind and memory of H. to the ‘splendid mind’ of R.

19. And I quote:

For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, or like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q. He reached Q. Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q . . . But after Q? What comes next? After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only reached once by one man in a generation. Still, if he could reach R it would be something. Here at least was Q. He dug his heels in at Q. Q he was sure of. Q he could demonstrate. If Q then is Q – R – Here he knocked his pipe out, with two or three resonant taps on the ram’s horn which made the handle of the urn, and proceeded. ‘Then R . . . ’ He braced himself. He clenched himself . . . . A shutter, like the leathern eyelid of a lizard, flickered over the intensity of his gaze and obscured the letter R. In that flash of darkness he heard people saying – he was a failure – that R was beyond him. He would never reach R. On to R, once more. R – (Woolf, 1977: 40-1)

20. Like the most impossibly excellent R.A.E. panellist, Mr Ramsay – as part of a discriminating elite, a father-figure – has ‘no sort of difficulty’, no difficulty of any sort, in sorting letters, letters of the kind sent by Hegel perhaps. Or perhaps papers, made up of letters and sent as if they were letters, together with covering letters, to the panels of the R.A.E. For Ramsay, the number of letters are ranged ‘all in order’. (An easy matter, to talk of logocentrism and phallocentrism in To the Lighthouse). Although, of course, ‘on, then, on to R’ always seems to entail a counter-movement, a counter-trajectory and temporality: ‘back to Q’. A rather tiresome repetition, always going back, time and again, to Q. Progress stymied by a compulsion to repeat. To and fro between Q and R, as if one is ‘compelled to follow the circle’, to ‘circle in the circle’ (Heidegger, 1976: 651) of Q to discover any chance of taking a step (marked perhaps by the oblique line that differentiates Q from a circle, a O, a zero, a nil) out or on or even back to R, which in the quoted passage doesn’t always come after Q.

21. Judgement of R is never simply judgement of R, but depends, of course, on the prior evaluation of Q. An evaluation (of Q) which in some sense is yet to come, or which in a certain way arrives after itself, only in the experience or moment of the judgement of R (which, of course, is not then the same as itself). R (i.e. Ramsay) is only ‘sure’ of Q at the moment he’s ‘on to R’. Time ‘out of joint’. The number of letters, all ranged in order, with no difficulty of any sort, suddenly subjected to a mis-sort. Perhaps not unlike Raelity itself, after all, however.

22. Judgement of R (Ramsay) is never simply judgement of R (the letter R). The letter collides yet never quite coincides with its recipient, never quite arrives in the capital (i.e. the initial of the proper name). Rather like the letters, perhaps, whose on-time delivery is apparently demanded by Raelity.

23. Judgement of R is never simply judgement of R because of this non-coincidence that characterises their coincidence. Anachrony, again, arriving right on time; disjunction, again, at the very moment of conjunction; but, now, also, a certain blindness just where it was hoped to find transparent, self-evident self-identicality (‘If Q then is Q – R – ’). Instead of a reassuring look in the mirror (R is R, therefore the sure identity of knowledge and the subject remains visibly intact) we have a disconcerting blink, right where it ought not to be. ‘A shutter, like the leathern eyelid of a lizard, flickered over the intensity of his gaze and obscured the letter R. In that flash of darkness he heard people saying – he was a failure – that R was beyond him. He would never reach R. On to R, once more. R – .’

24. The hour is late. Nearing the end. End of millennium. Or 2001 (isn’t that really when the millennium ends?). Last hour. Midnight hour. Twenty four hundred hours. (Sort of coincidence again.) Time speeding up, right on time? Things are getting dark. Here is Derrida once more, on the institution, on memory and sight, on rhythm and the blink of an eye, finally on the question of vision in the university, vision of and for the university:

Opening the eyes to know, closing them – or at least listening – in order to know how to learn and learn how to know: here we have a first sketch of the rational animal. If the University is an institution for science and teaching, does it not have to go beyond memory and sight? In what rhythm? To hear and learn better, must it close its eyes or narrow its outlook? In cadence? What cadence? Shutting off sight in order to learn is of course only a figurative manner of speaking. No one will take it literally, and I am not proposing to cultivate an art of blinking. And I am resolutely in favour of a new University Enlightenment (Aufklarung). Still, I shall run the risk of extending my figuration a little farther, in Aristotle’s company. In his De anima (421b) he distinguishes between man and those animals that have hard, dry eyes [ton sklerophtalmon], the animals lacking eyelids, the sort of sheath or tegumental membrane [phragma] which serves to protect the eye and permits it, at regular intervals, to close itself off in the darkness of inward thought or sleep. What is terrifying about an animal with hard eyes and a dry glance is that it always sees. Man can lower his sheath, adjust the diaphragm, narrow his sight, the better to listen, remember and learn. What might the University’s diaphragm be? (Derrida, 1983: 5)

Slow down. Hang on a moment.

Here, Derrida implies that thought, learning, knowledge of any kind itself requires ‘regular intervals’ at which to pause, rest, evaluate. And the R.A.E, it goes without saying, comes at regular intervals, in order to undertake evaluation exercises. At night, in the dark, their relationship is an uncanny one, however. The ‘intervals’ which Derrida describes as vital to knowledge, learning and thought are precisely not characterised or presided over by the intensely unremitting stare of Ramsayesque ‘hard, dry eyes’ dedicated to the spectacle of transparent, self-evident self-identicality (Q is Q, R is R). While such a piercing gaze might suggest the punctual, punctuating, puncturing advent of the R.A.E. (into reality), Derrida (long before time) reminds us that the ‘interval’ which actually facilitates thought, prompting us to evaluate knowledge, and to remember learning, is characterised by the blink of an eye, the passage of darkness. In this sense, Ramsay’s failure, in a ‘flash of darkness’, would possibly (spectacularly) redeem itself.

25. No need, then, to simply bemoan and wholly repudiate the intervention or insertion of the interval (the R.A.E. is nothing other than a certain intervention or insertion of an interval), since the interval (between the twelfth and fourteenth year, for example?) reactivates the structure of the already-not-yet, calling us to remember learning (to come), calling us to evaluate knowledge and (however impossibly) evaluation itself, calling us to begin (again) to think. But the interval will not only aid illumination and transparency, since it must also entail a suspension, a forgetting, a darkness, played out (against and within the light) according to the rhythms of a blink. The institution built on the principle of reason is also, if we follow Heidegger, built ‘on what remains hidden in that principle’, Derrida tells us, so that the ‘principle of reason installs its empire only to the extent that the abyssal question of being that is hiding within it remains hidden, and with it the question of the grounding of the ground itself’ (Derrida, 1983: 10). Just as, in Derrida’s ‘Mochlos’, the footing of the institution is found on uncertain foundations, so the vision of the university proceeds from what remains concealed. However, this raises the question of responsibility in that critics, professors, academics working at ‘multiple sites [on] a stratified terrain’ with ‘postulations that are undergoing continual displacement’ need to observe ‘a sort of strategic rhythm’ playing itself out between the ‘barrier’ and the ‘abyss’, between the protected horizon, the secured partition, of the university space and the invisible and unthought bottomless chasm on which this is founded. The ‘strategic rhythm’ that pulsates between the barrier (horizon of vision) and the abyss (hidden and unseen) provides a way to play one off against the other. Such ‘playing off’ as the responsibility of the critic or academic appears partially to redeem speculation – perhaps even the spectacularly specular thinking of Ramsay (R is R), in whom we have traced a figure of the hard-eyed vision of the R.A.E. It is this ‘strategic rhythm’ Derrida associates, finally, with ‘the blinking of an eye’ (Derrida, 1983: 17).

26. Last letter. On time, out of time. Raelity – blink and you miss it? Don’t count on it.

Brighton, England, 11 August, 1999 4


1. In the ChambersDictionary, 1994 edition, there is only one word beginning with the letters ‘rae’, and it is a name (not of the improper sort I have coined, i.e. ‘Raelity’): Raetia (or Rhaetia), ‘a province of the Roman Empire, roughly Grisons and Tirol, to which Vindelicia was added’. The only characterising feature, above and beyond the rough designation of this province, being addition itself. Raetia adds (itself) to Rome. However, while its capital (the letter R) belongs to the capital (Rome), Raetia adds to but does not, of course, quite add up to Rome. R is not quite R. Pluses and minuses, more or less, here. We’ll come back to this.

2. This sudden, although I suppose quite familiar, shift from Kant to Hegel might be justified by a reading of Peggy Kamuf’s chapter on ‘The Walls of Science’ in The Division of Literature, Or, The University in Deconstruction. Here, via a close reading of Hegel’s speech of September 29, 1809, given to commemorate the commencement of exercises at Nuremberg’s classical Gymnasium, Kamuf shows that Hegel’s institution, as much as Kant’s or Readings’, walks on ‘two [left] feet’, displaying just the same kinds of highly conflicted and ambivalent effects consequent upon the dynamic of differentiation required by the fraught processes of institutionality; and thereby revealing the non-self-identical doubleness of apparent opposites that crop up in the institution’s vicinity.

3. It is important to note that, in ‘The Age of Hegel’, Derrida in fact gives a patient and detailed historico-sociological analysis of the complex interplay between liberal discourse and the ‘mobile, subtle, sometimes paradoxical dynamic’ of the given forces of civil society that flow from, into and within Hegel’s missives to the Ministry.

4. The day or date of an eclipse, fittingly.

This article also draws some of its inspiration from a forthcoming essay by Nick Royle entitled ‘Night Writing’, due to appear in his book The Uncanny (Manchester University Press, 20001). ‘Night Writing’ was presented as a paper at the ‘Deconstruction Reading Politics’ conference at the University of Staffordshire in the summer of 1999.


Derrida, J. (1983) ‘The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of its Pupils’, Diacritics 13:3: 3-20.

Derrida, J. (1986) ‘The Age of Hegel’, pp.1-43 in S. Weber (ed.), Demarcating the Disciplines: Philosophy, Literature, Art. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Includes, as an appendix, G.W.F. Hegel’s letter of April 16, 1822 ‘To the Royal Ministry of Spiritual, Academic and Medical Affairs’.)

Derrida, J. (1992) ‘Mochlos’, pp.1-34 in R. Rand (ed.), Logomachia: The Conflict of the Faculties. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Derrida, J. (1994) Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York and London: Routledge.

Heidegger, M. (1976) ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’, pp.647-708 in A. Hofstadter and R. Kuhns (eds), Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Kamuf, P. (1997) The Division of Literature, Or, The University in Deconstruction. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Readings, B. (1996) The University in Ruins. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press.

Woolf, V. (1977) To The Lighthouse. London: Triad/Grafton Books. (Orig. Hogarth Press, 1927.)

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