Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

Report of the Orientation Handbook Editors (1971)

The main thrust of the argument in the Handbook, and in the practice derived from it, is towards the notion that certain tendencies are manifesting themselves in the socio-politico-academic development of the University; that these tendencies are largely the unconscious results of actions derived from antiquated theories or day to day struggles based on vague ideas of student rights; and that a more conscious development of these tendencies is possible. What the Handbook (understandably) does not state is the theoretical grounds underlying our selection of these tendencies as the important ones.

The reason for our non-statement of the underlying theory is that, as yet, the theories illuminating modern society are almost totally unknown in Australia and that the concepts in terms of which the theories are developed are unintelligible except in the light of an advanced theoretical knowledge of the relevant works. The key concept of this work is that of the "spectacular commodity economy". To our knowledge the only work of this tendency ever available in Australia was the pamphlet "On Student Poverty" and this, while treating students in the context of a general approach to revolutionary youth culture, did not approach the problem of the spectacular university. The reason for this is simple; in 1966, when the pamphlet was written at Strasbourg, French universities had not entered the modern world. French universities at that time were so feudally constructed that the problems associated with modern forms of repression (or better, conflict management) could hardly be posed within the university context. In this respect Australian universities were much more modern than French ones - although French universities will probably rapidly overhaul us given the new methods introduced after 1968. (French student politics, especially the U.N.E.F., was firmly under communist control and hence integrated into the more modern outside society rather than into the university one.) The Strasbourg stituationists declared war on the emerging spectacular university when they dissolved the University Psychiatric Service. (An extreme gesture perhaps, but a thousand times more relevant than a sit-in in a Careers and Appointments Office.) We are already so integrated into a spectacular sub-society here that it would be difficult to explain the point.

Orientation Week is an anachronistic survival in the age of the spectacle. It is perpetuated by inertia and vested interest. In the spectacular commodity economy orientation activities serve the purpose of privatising the student mind. The university experience is exhibited as spectacle to the new students; chunks of it, e.g. Film Society, left activism, S.R.C. presidency, are retailed to them as socio-cultural commodities. University activities are for the student's consumption, not the result of his or her free creation. University life is exhibited as fixed, a stage designed by someone else. The Administration and S.R.C. will provide the bread and the Labour club the circuses (although we admit that the S.R.C. provides very little bread and threatens to become a circus). Given this it hardly matters that Orientation Week bears the same relation to university life that a Hollywood film does to real life.

Within the spectacular university the various actors engage in tournaments of shadow boxing. Who cares if the S.R.C., especially its executive, is the Administration's transmission belt to the students; the alternative of democracy simply intensifies the unreality of so-called student government. What matters is that all student politics is a play to distract the audience from the fire in the back of the hall. Student politics is a delusion until students have been replaced by workers in the field of knowledge. Within the play we see lead actors who have forgotten that the Vice-Chancellor wrote the script parrotting their melodramatic phrases with all the ineptness of sincerity, Ideology becomes the flesh of our flesh. The world itself walks upside down.

In conclusion we quote an exchange from the cartoon strip "The return of the Durruti Column":

Pancho: "What's your scene man?"
Cisco: "Reification".
Pancho: "I guess that means plenty of hard work with lots of big books on a big table?"
Cisco: "Nope man, mainly I drift, just drift."
(Presented to the S.R.C. 11/3/1971)

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