As Berlin argues in Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures, no category of investigation can ever “be given an unquestioned first place in analysis” (76). Here he is borrowing from Teresa Ebert’s idea of “resistance postmodernism”—meaning that even modes of investigation (and my interest is primarily those of composition pedagogies) need to realize their situatedness; that their methods are never transhistorical/universal, but historically specific. My fear for much of composition theory/pedagogy is disciplinary/intellectual stasis. It is not enough just to examine and offer critique, which is what, I contend, too much of cultural studies and critical pedagogy does, but instead it is necessary “to inquire into the power relations requiring such suppression” in the first place” (Ebert qtd. in Berlin 75). In this instance Ebert is referring the suppression caused by/created by hierarchy and binaries (the focus of much postmodern inquiry), but I believe this can be extended to the work that cultural studies and critical pedagogy attempt to do when in their “unveiling” mode—the uncovering of social injustice. The goals of critical pedagogy are, according to Amy Lee, to do this kind of rewriting that Ebert points to in her rendition of “resistant postmodernism.” Lee writes, “Critical pedagogy does not propose that we tell students about democratic possibilities or espouse radical empowerment. Rather, it proposes that we work toward these goals with our students, reflecting on and working to alter the conditions that impede them” (106). This is also what Ebert insists “resistant postmodernism” can do—work for “equal access for all to social resources and for an end to the explitative exercise of power” (75). But too often, I’ve found, cultural studies and critical pedagogy get caught up in mere ideology critique; thereby inadvertently (I believe) avoiding the conditions of the historical moment. Because I believe that the University as TNC would certainly impede both “democratic possibilities” and “radical empowerment,” I hold critical pedagogy, particularly that critical pedagogy of the writing classroom, as responsible to and as in need of responding to the bureaucratic University that Readings lays out for us. And instead critical pedagogy, with its explicit reference to the act of critique and/or critical thinking and/or analysis, ends up adding to the vocabulary that is, what I describe as the “vocabulary of ‘excellence.’” That is, “critical,” has become empty in much the same way that Readings has described “excellence” as empty—lacking a referent or signified. “Critical” and “excellence” are both terms we, particularly in academia, assume to be uncontestable ground. But “excellence” is the language of accounting, which is the language of businesses and corporations—pointing to critical pedagogy’s complicity in the University in “ruins.”
But all of this also points to the ability of critical pedagogy and cultural studies to help us read and respond to the “ruins.” As Berlin puts it, “resistance is always possible, since the contradiction between signified and signifier…continually provoke opposition to hegemonic ideologies” (75). It is this continual opposition that we can see as a possibility for Readings’ idea of the open-ended dialogue and community of dissensus. For example we have our signifiers—“excellence” and “critical” let’s say—and then we have the actual conditions of the University as corporatized—and possibly in the conflict and struggle between these signifiers and the actuality of the University’s contemporary situation we can create the resistance to excellence that Readings so strongly calls for.