University melodramas: the claim
The university loves to have guidelines and policies in place to back itself up …
but it just becomes a bit of, as I would say in Arabic, a ‘Syrian drama’, which is
very like [in a high-pitched voice] aahhhh! Lots of things going on, but nothing
much is happening.1
In April 2010, I began my initiation into the student politics of Palestine–Israel
when I went to observe the NUS National Conference. The UJS and FOSIS had
organised a fringe meeting entitled ‘Hate Speech on Campus’, which had generated intense advance
For over four decades, events in Palestine-Israel have provoked raging conflicts between members of British universities, giving rise to controversies around free speech, ‘extremism’, antisemitism and Islamophobia within higher education, which have been widely reported in the media and subject to repeated interventions by politicians. But why is this conflict so significant for student activists living at such a geographical distance from the region itself? And what role do emotive, polarised communications around Palestine-Israel play in the life of British academic institutions committed to the ideal of free expression? This book invites students, academics and members of the public who feel concerned with this issue to explore the sources of these visceral encounters on campus. Drawing on original ethnographic research with conflicting groups of activists, it explores what is at stake for students who are drawn into struggles around Palestine-Israel within changing university spaces facing pressures associated with neoliberalism and the ‘War on Terror’. It begins from this case study to argue that, in an increasingly globalised world that is shaped by entangled histories of the Nazi Holocaust and colonial violence, members of universities must develop creative and ethical ways of approaching questions of justice. Tragic Encounters and Ordinary Ethics curates an ethnographic imagination in response to the political tensions arising out of the continuing violence in Palestine-Israel. It invites students and academics to attend to lived experiences within our own university institutions in order to cultivate ethical forms of communication in response to conflicts of justice.
with melodrama and which I will draw out in the ethnographic narrative that follows: truth as ambiguity and excess, the undoing of temporal and spatial distance
and the engagement of ambivalent, fragmented subjectivities.
Critchley describes tragic theatre as an invention that happens when a society
experiences a disjuncture at the heart of its political life (Critchley and Kesselman
2012). In contrast with the coherent moral truth of melodrama, tragedy expresses
a sense of truth as the excess of that which can be rationally known and contained. As I explore in
tragic conflict from an ethical perspective. Tracing how a political melodrama
was experienced within campuses, I have shown how students felt torn between
impossible norms of rationality and autonomy, and the claims of haunting pasts
and deeply felt cultural attachments to Palestine–Israel. While a dominant university culture silenced passionate expression, aggressive feelings re-emerged over
time, attracting media attention which produced further shaming and repression.
Woven into this ethnographic narrative, I have offered a theorisation of the connections between
Conversation, friendship and democratic possibilities
] insists more on the events of 1947/1948, whereas the first one will more
insist on what’s happening now. And that is often, er, a divergence in the debate,
where a lot of the –I don’t know if I’m saying the right things –where a lot of
pro-Palestinians will want to discuss about the events until 1948, whereas a lot of
pro-Israelis will want to discuss events, how they are now.
As discussed in the previous two chapters, melodramatic and tragic campus dramas differed in their temporal orientations. While melodramas dramatised a synchronic conflict between abstract
’ and ‘terrorism’ in Palestine–Israel. Drawing together the empirical analysis across these two chapters, I develop the theoretical argument that,
while the melodramatic assertion of the liberal university affirmed the dominant
institutional order, the disruptive excess re-emerged as a return of the repressed.
Learning from aesthetic theories of melodrama and tragedy, I offer an explanation
for the repetitive, circular and high-profile quality of these campus conflicts over
time, including the role of public media and the logics of spectatorship in this process
producing a cheap collected edition of a living author at a shilling a volume. The Lancashire Witches became available in all four ways.
The book is a combination of the antiquarian picturesque and the Gothic. In it Ainsworth is doing three things at the same time: celebrating ‘Merry England’, chronicling the landscape, buildings, traditions and dialect of Lancashire, and providing a Gothic version of an actual historical event. So, it is a potent combination of fact and fancy, of history and romance, of chronicle and melodrama
melodrama, woman asks
man to acknowledge his mortality. It is indeed true that in giving birth to
man, woman has also given him death, since death is the condition of all
life. But man has been preoccupied with struggling against death, trying to
Interpretative synopsis of Elemental Passions
overcome his mortality; and since he has identified woman with death he
struggles also against her. But until he acknowledges both his origin and
his mortality he will be alienated from himself and unable to accept either
his own subject position or that of woman. So she says,