The Reorder of Things

From Self-Portrait 2000

Rod Ferguson’s new book, The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference, is so utterly fantastic. Thinking institutionally and historically and interrogating power, he offers a really important response to approaches to university that emphasize the market or labor by showing that academic labor is not homogeneous –it is racialized, gendered, etc. He begins by Adrian Piper’s Self-Portrait 2000, an artwork that includes a letter from Piper to the president of Wellesley College (where Piper was a faculty member from 1993-2007) that condemns the institution for:

“watching as I get buried in an unending avalanche of visibility-related demands that have made it virtually impossible to produce and publish the anti-racism work it purportedly brought me here to do” (1).

Ferguson’s reading of this portrait emphasizes archives – what he calls “a line between past promises of recognition and present-day catastrophes”- suggesting that this portrait is one instance of many that shows how the protests and movements of the ’60s have been archived in the present academy (2).

For me, the resonances between the image of the destroyed plane and the “single catastrophe” that Benjamin’s angel of history looks back at is super helpful in terms of thinking about why heterogeneous historical time – – that which busts up the same ole, same ole of homogeneous, empty time–offers promises but is not, alone, sufficient to rethinking history and historicism. For the plane is particular, it disrupts homogeneous, empty time, but through its particularity it archives how difference – – what’s necessary to bust up homogeneous time–creates particular catastrophes that reinforce (archive) the powers that be even as they work to critique these powers.