I’ve not been going to lectures recently. That’s not simply because of a disenchantment with my degree, featuring an examined module (called Key Skills) specifically engineered to equip us with interview, CV composition and ‘self-marketing’ techniques, but rather because campus harbours nothing but dread and anxiety for me now. Since the imposition of these bail conditions, I have felt utterly severed from its world. I have felt, even more than before, as if I have no place there, that I no longer belong to its community. For all intents and purposes, this is not simply a conjuration of worry and dejection: I have been banished. The distance is not simply emotional, nor mental, nor ideological (although the feeling of alienation is undissociable from our material conditions): it is real, it is overt, and it is sanctioned by the power and authority of the state.
Now, in Western liberal democracies such as ours, power always implicitly operates as such (or more explicitly, if you’re not able-bodied and white as I am): it is rooted in its very nature as it assumes dominion over us, even against our will, substantiated in the threat of violence if we do not comply. However, experiences such as this expose and delineate those mechanics, that reality – the reality that our freedom can be seized from us if we channel it in rebellion and subversion, that it is conditional upon our subordination to the prevailing order. What freedom, it is of meaning, is predicated upon submission? What freedom, if it is of meaning, is predicated upon our acquiescence to systematic injustice? What freedom, if it is of meaning, is predicated upon our acceptance of the knowledge that those freedoms we are afforded are only ensured because others are exploited and unfree? Should we not question the constitution of a freedom which requires violence as its gatekeeper? Should we not question the character of a system which produces such a concept of freedom, and imposes conditions wherein identities are cultivated that must be regimented and subdued by violence, the infliction of which but further inflames those identities? Should we not question a political climate which is desiccated and searing so, that we seethe with fever and fatigue and thirst as we traverse its desolation, grasping at mirages of oases which flow in gold, a fire kindled only to smoulder and rage within us, demanding release, asphyxiating us with its smoke?
For the police and University have not simply nullified my ability to protest on campus, but rather negated the potentialities of adventure which Warwick should present to us. They have diminished my University experience to its one, elementary core function, to a transactional service remunerating my fee ‘investment’ – to study that which capital and the state has prescribed, to hone myself as a tool for their ends, to indebt myself for the elusive promise of a higher income and a pre-emptive start upon the employment ladder (no matter who we tread upon to reach there); to trace my path along the JP Morgan footsteps strewing campus. They have appropriated my agency to define and mould my University experience, to explore it critically and creatively and morally.
They have mechanized it within the constraints of exchange, to provide me solely with the commodity for which I have paid. I am not simply like a customer within that world anymore – that is all I am. I go to the checkout, accumulate the information as my pre-purchased goods, and then I leave. There is no interaction beyond that which is necessary, no lingering, no straying, plagued as I am by the relentless foreboding of the store CCTV and security surveillance. It is a relegation of my University experience to its operational and abstract exchange value, a seizure of everything save that which bears value within the market and can prospectively contribute to capital. They have fundamentally sanctioned away everything that I crafted as enjoyable and empowering and nourishing and inspiring within that world. They have rendered it illegal that I be the architect of my University experience, that I penetrate and delve beyond the content of a curriculum and rigid timetable, and that I conceive of myself as more than a vessel engineered within this blueprint of capital. They have leached away what texture, artistry, nuance, variety and wonder dared to embellish my University experience and functionalized it as a bleak, disconnected procedure of consumption.
Before, at least, there was the illusion of choice, though the whims of the market still predominated, in their final instance, over it: that has been shattered. The emotional and ideological manner in which I processed Warwick, the neo-liberal framework in which we theorize the University, has been crystallised in a state-enforced reality: this ecology has been restructured, entrenched and ossified. The ache of incompletion, the scorch and laceration and yearning of that flame beneath our skins, that fire we cannot quite channel or effuse: it is no longer simply abstract, but a realized temporality, with form and substance, assumed upon that bail sheet, in the siege of worry levelled by the prospect of a prison sentence, in the looming of bail dates, in the despair induced by the piercing sirens of cop cars. More than the direct threat of violence, I am stayed by the terror of their capacity to dictate who I can and cannot be, their capacity to regulate the format of my existence. The illusion that this present, this time and space, is comprehensively my own has been deconstructed.
And though that truth may now be conditional, though this present may not yet fully be ours: our future may still be. They can isolate me from those around me: they cannot sever those bonds. They can inflict physical violence upon me: they cannot ravage our dream of a different world. They can debilitate my individual spirit, but they cannot – they will not – arrest our collective fight. They can circumscribe us within their borders – but we will always struggle to stray and wander and flourish beyond them, to realize new expanses and construct new landscapes and find new horizons. They may have an entitlement to seize away our freedoms – they cannot seize away our longing, they cannot assimilate our passion, and they cannot extinguish our resolve. They cannot claim our hope.
We do not want their acerbic oases, we do not want their illusory prospects of riches and success and ‘opportunity’, we do not want a prosperity founded upon decay. We want our utopia, and we will damn well take it.