Tuesday, January 08, 2008

William T. Cavanaugh against the "universal gaze"

From The Other Journal, which also carried the McCarraher interview linked earlier, comes another interview with William T. Cavanaugh. It examines with insight the dominance of the nation-state, the trampling of particularity by universalist pretensions, and how the worship of God in the Eucharist maintains Communion despite these forces.

At one point Cavanaugh critically reflects on every professor's favorite target: his students. He says:
...there is a certain kind of pathology, a mode or way of “seeing” space and time. It is a universal gaze that I have noticed in my students at a university where there is an assumption of this universal gaze. This is prevalent, of course, in what we tell our students all the time: that we are going to take them from their little provincial small towns in Minnesota and we are going to give them the world and make them universal subjects of the university. It is amazing the way they assume this character and assume their ability to enter into any time and/or space. We teach a course on the church in Latin America and we used to start with Rigoberta Manchu’s autobiography. It is incredible how quickly these suburban middle class Minnesota kids assume that they can identify with this Guatemalan peasant woman. And the message, of course if we are going to be honest, is that who we really identify with in the story are the landowners who cheat the peasants. But they assume that they can really just walk into the story and immediately identify with this Guatemalan peasant woman. So in light of this presumed gaze I want to give (God knows nobody will ever allow me to do this) a commencement speech at a college where I would stand up and say, “Please don’t go out and change the world”. The world has had enough of well-meaning middle class university graduates from the U.S. going out and trying to change the world and the world is dying because of it. . . go home.
The Nation State Project, Schizophrenic Globalization, and the Eucharist

1 comment:

Zachary said...

Are you familiar with Cavanaugh?

Your quote here seems to suggest he has no capacity to understand where his students, and in turn, other people, might be coming from. He sounds mean.

Basically, I'm interested in his work but I'm not sure whether or not it's a waste of my time.

Any thoughts?