Su-ming Khoo (School of Political Science and Sociology, University of Galway, Ireland and CriSHET, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa) will be in conversation with CHR Fellows on Tuesday 25th April (14.00-16.00 SAST) at the CHR.

This talk is based on Khoo’s forthcoming essay:

play // profanation

We turn to the gods

but the gods turn us

We turn to the gods

And are torn apart

Euripides: Bacchae

This provocation uses, as its starting point, a forthcoming essay, ‘On public goods, cursing and finding hope in the (neoliberal) twilight zone’, (forthcoming 2023). The key question is whether a publicly good higher education remains possible while living in a rather bad context.  The paper begins by discussing dread and darkness in academia’s ‘neoliberal twilight zone’ which seemingly offers only the choice between neoliberal globalism or global neoliberalism (Schuurman 2009). While Adorno argues that “wrong life cannot be lived rightly” (cited in Butler 2015, 193), I reach for hope in the obstinately educative and ‘higher’ aspects of higher education that retain a certain autonomy, and allow critique and profanation of neoliberalism’s doctrines of hierarchy, inequality and violent exclusion.

Educative obstinacy (Biesta 2019) and ‘higher’ freedoms point us towards different forms of darkness that are more hopeful and conducive to individual and collective good than grimdark neoliberal competition, hierarchy and extractivism. There are other productive forms of darkness and willful, playful, restful, hopepunk pedagogies and feasible utopias that we can begin working on now (Nørgard 2021; 2022). Developing the discussion, the paper considers parallels between Lalu’s use of Seamus Heaney’s staging of Sophocles’ Cure at Troy in Undoing Apartheid (2022) and Honig’s re-staging of Euripides’ Bacchae in A Feminist Theory of Refusal (2021). In a parallel to Philoctetes and Neoptolemus’ return to Troy for a cure, Honig speculates on the Bacchants return to Thebes following their regicide in Cithaeron. Why do the women return? Perhaps it is a claim for recognition, for equality, or simply to demand their story be told, or perhaps it is to transform the city.