School and University: Eros and education



Reflections on the crisis of the contemporary University.

The contemporary University finds itself in a genealogical crisis and in the transmission of its foundational values, its autonomy and generational solidarity that formed the intersubjective matrices of professional and institutional identity.

The disqualification of previous ordering modes of self-determination and academic evaluation by the idea of ​​management and its utilitarian view of the institution and the knowledge it produces makes tabula rasa of the generational passage: “all professional acts are fragmented, rationalized and prescribed by instances other than those of the professions themselves[…]. Management practices are required and must be incorporated into professional acts”.[I]

Their forms of blackmail are expressed in the idea that all reforms are aimed at optimizing productivity, so that everyone must produce to “do better”, without questioning themselves about their purpose, losing the substance of what constitutes a value: “ what counts is meeting evaluation targets, maintaining funding and not research interest, which brings new openings. If the researcher is not cited, he is not productive [...]. The most successful are not evaluated for the courage to think, but for publicity and spectacle, as if, if researchers were not evaluated, they would not be able to produce”.[ii]

Such circumstances operate as disorders that affect Universities and that are manifested in the permanent change of programs and projects: “In a recursive movement, deinstitutionalization amplifies the displacement of subjects from their belongings, and these, in turn, amplify the processes of deinstitutionalization […]. We are confronted with powerful movements of delegitimization [of transmitted knowledge, of ways of recognizing competences, of intellectual authority] that take the form of expropriation, by management, and management[…]. These modalities of organization of relationships within institutional collectives mobilize the destruction of previous experience [...], the processes of historicization being precisely the condition of subjective appropriation and identification”.[iii]

Radical restructuring at the University and the loss of the centrality of the professor-researcher destroy the established balances between University members and their culture. The loss of autonomy results in the eclipse of university authority. Far from the notions of power, strength and violence, true authority has no power, it arouses a feeling of trust and protection, the feeling, experience and recognition of a well received, which is why its nature is spiritual. Therefore, where power is attested, there could be no authority, as this evokes a historically constituted mix of traditional civilities and modern dispositions that had until now allowed for a neutralization of a large part of the “economic horror”[iv].

The decline of university autonomy can be found in the disappearance of humanist ideas that valued the cultural and political formation of the Spirit. Today, teacher “continuing education” and “teacher monitoring” – apart from the idea of ​​never reaching maturity, the state of perpetual minority to which one is subjected – correspond to subordination to an incessant change, professionalization paradoxically forming to deprofessionalization, forced as individuals will be to change professions several times during their lives, changes considered “the ability to break, without regret or remorse, all the ties that can unite a man to a place, a culture and other beings humans.[…]. The inability to love and dispositions to ingratitude are the essence of what is understood today by 'freedom'”.[v]

With autonomy mitigated, the School and the University lose their nature of Education, of training as a general process of humanizing life, which does not come about in solitude, but precisely through relationships, good and bad encounters , training being precisely to give shape to the meetings we had at School and at the University, as well as "is part of from the Education leaving the family, the language we speak at home, the one that the child learns from the mother, the language full of affection, without universality, with respect to which one takes a leap when entering school, a leap that is a trauma necessary for the humanization, the dematernalization of the language in the encounter with the language of the alphabet and grammar[…]. The difficulty of learning at this stage of life is sometimes resistance against this separation from the 'mother tongue' of the family until the symbolic cut is made, the need to separate from a knowledge that is too close to access the longer knowledge of the alphabetic language. It is this loss that allows access to knowledge”.[vi]

Humanistic, formative education found reading the noble procedure par excellence. A patient activity, it is a symbolic and temporal experience that works on our inner world. Think of all cultural experiences that require time, far from the production, management and market chronometer. In In the Shadow of Girls in Flower, Proust narrates how the Vinteuil Sonata was progressively created for him, whose bars accompany the entire work In Search of the Lost Time: “the time needed to penetrate a profound work is like a summary and symbol of the years and sometimes centuries that have to elapse before the public can love a truly new masterpiece. […] It was Beethoven's quartets themselves that took fifty years to give life and number to the public of Beethoven's quartets, realizing what would have been impossible to find when the masterpiece appeared, that is, creatures capable of loving them”.[vii]

Let it be considered that works of thought are experiences of thinking and represent whole parts of a life and an entire existence made up of paradoxes, mistakes and freedom. It takes generations to receive and interpret them – to decipher Socrates' serenity at the moment of his death, Plotinus' ecstasies, the tormented nights of Metaphysical Meditations of Descartes. A life examined in works of culture requires time – away from the Taylorism of the spirit.

The cultural world is that of the “civilization of customs”, which requires initiation into the symbolic. In your Racine et Shakespeare, Stendhal refers to the story of the Baltimore soldier, who was in charge of security at the theater in which he performed. Othello: “This soldier was assigned as a watchman in the theater which he had never entered before. When Desdemona was threatened by Othello in the fifth act of the tragedy, [the security guard] overpowered him, pulled the trigger and shot the actor, and with that the staging was suspended. The actor ended up with a broken arm. Stendhal spoke of perfect illusion and considered it to be rare and above all ephemeral, lasting no more than half a second or a quarter-second”.[viii]

The world of fiction and philosophical, literary and historical heuristics needs prolegomena – representation, image, sign, sublimation –, propitiators of the experience of culture and culture as experience and knowledge. Every cultural look is a respect, a re-spect, it is “looking again”, it is caring, it is conserving what has already been seen, it is a repetition that accumulates meanings and new reflections, it is an initiatory experience.

The encounter with knowledge is the encounter with the word of the Master, with the one who teaches, who engraves a sign in us, who leaves a mark, when commenting on a work, a comment that clarifies what is read, that undoes its initial obscurity. The professor thus has custody, not of definitive knowledge, but of the text that seems to be written in a foreign language and which, through the miracle of transmission through his commentary, becomes comprehensible, also considering the crucial moment of its interruption in a point of intensity in which the Master says: “'this aspect, it is not possible to explain it, we don't know what Plato meant', or Saint Augustine when he asked: 'but what did God do before the creation of the world?'. The only possible answer is 'I don't know'. […]. A Master is one whose name we do not forget, who left a mark, who is not intellectual, as we may have forgotten the content of the classes; what is not forgotten is the fascination, the presence, the style, the voice [...]. The encounter takes place in the presence of the bodies, the book in the teacher's hands and the chalk that is not a 'touch' on a screen. In the Master's hand, the book becomes a body, the teacher knows where there is a comma, a semicolon, an ellipsis, giving soul to the desire to know, transferring it to the students. Transmission that is to say: transposing and transporting in the erotic sense of falling in love, and this encounter expands the experience of the world”.[ix]

The teacher is the one who transforms a book into a body and a body into a book: “reading is a form of relationship that implies time, care, attention, love for detail, punctuation, footnotes. The body as a book is an initiation to the love discourse. It is not about sex education, but about the eroticism of the encounter in which the body is transformed into a book; [this meeting is initiation] to the eroticism of reading, it is not immediate, hallucinatory consumption of the object, but the long path of reading. Turning your body into a book is the definition of love.”[X] This is the importance of classic texts, those that become classics, those that are inexhaustible, to which we always return because their arcana is never fully revealed and, therefore, they are always new.

If, in the humanist perspective, the disciplines are formative, in the anti-humanist and anti-intellectual “mass culture”, they are performative. The “cultural industry” permeated education, based on the assumption that “true culture is elitist and thus inaccessible to the great mass. Under the auspices of the media, learning was decreed tedious, and intellectual endeavor outlawed. Individuals mobilized in this way feel educated when they are able to give their opinion on current affairs. Submitted to a servitude that ignores itself, man becomes “the lackey of the moment”, “slave of the headline of the day”. Reduced to the condition of a consumer, he accepts, without resistance, the standardization of culture.

The philosopher criticizes the cultural industry not for being democratic, but for not being so: “The fight against mass culture can only be carried forward if the connection between mass culture and the persistence of social inequality is shown”. In a precise sense, facilitated education did not democratize access to cultural goods, but rather massified education. In this sense, Adorno noted: “The abolition of educational privilege, through the sale of cultural products, does not open to the masses spheres from which they were previously excluded (…); they contribute, on the contrary, to the decay of education and the progress of barbarism”.

In this sense, Adorno reports the difficulties of the general examination in philosophy that students took at the end of their humanities courses at the University of Hessen. A student chose to be examined about Bergson and, about that, the professor asked her if he could establish some interrelation between the philosopher and some of his contemporary painters, artists who had some affinity with the spirit of Bergsonian philosophy. Adorno observes the perplexity of the student who intended to talk only about Bergson, not about impressionism in its relations with the philosophy of élan vital: “But a living culture consists precisely in recognizing relationships such as the one given between the philosophy of momentum vital and impressionist painting. Anyone who does not understand this will not understand Bergson either.”[xi]

The Humanities that form sensitivity and thought are transcultural and transhistorical, they are political in the precise sense: they are heterophilia, they are Eros. Indeed, education, since Socrates and Plato, requires Eros, Love. This is why Adorno considers the current educational situation today as a loss of delicacy and the end of the aura of culture: “since cultural formation [...] is precisely what there are no adequate uses for, it must be obtained through efforts and spontaneous interest, which is not guaranteed through courses, even those of studio generale. Or rather, it is not achieved through efforts, but through receptivity, the ability to allow the spiritual to come to us, actively receiving it into one's consciousness, instead of submitting to it as a mere apprenticeship, as a cliché. If I weren't afraid of falling into sentimentality, I would say that cultural formation requires love; [lack of culture] is certainly a defect in the capacity to love”.[xii]

Olgaria Matos is a professor of philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Philosophical palindromes: between myth and history (Unifesp).

Text presented at the Unifesp-2021 Academic Congress.


[I] Gori, Rolan, La Fabrique des ImposteursParis, Les Liens qui libèrent, 2013.

[ii] Gori, Rolan, op cit.

[iii] Gaillard, G., “L´Institution, le 'Bien Commun' et le 'maletre'”: preserver une temporalité ouverte”. In: Crises et Truamas à l´épreuve du temps. Le travail psychique dnas les groups, les couples et les institutions, org. R. Ka”es et allii. Paris, Dunod, 2015, p. 99.

[iv] See Viviane Forrester. L'Horreur Economique. Paris, Fayard, 1997.

[v] Jean-Claude Michea, L´Enseignement de l´Ignorance et ses conditions modernes. Paris, Climats, 2006, p. 22.

[vi] Recalcati, Massimo, L´Ora di Lexzione.Per um´eritica dell´insegnamento. Turin, Einaudi, 2014, p.83.

[vii] Proust, In the Shadow of Girls in Bloom. Translation: Mario Quintana. Porto Alegre, Globo, 1988, p. 96-97.

[viii] Compagnon, Antoine, Brisacier ou la Suspension de l'Incrédulité, Fabula, 1999. In:

[ix] Ricalcati, Massimo,A blond grip: a vita is i suoi libri. Rome, Feltrinelli, 2010.

[X] Ricalcati, Massimo, op cit.

[xi] Adorno, “Philosophy and Teacher”, in Intervene: new models of criticism, trans. Roberto J. Vernengo. Caracas, Monte Avila, 1969, p. 137.

[xii] Adorno, “Philosophy and Masters”, in Intervene: new models of criticism, trans. Roberto J. Vernengo. Caracas, Monte Avila, 1969, p. 137.

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