After reading Derrida’s ‘The University Without Conditon,’ I started doing something like a genealogy of academic freedom, trying to think about how that mostly forgotten beginning in Bologna has some possibly implications for the way that we think about our work in the academy today. I’m sharing some of that writing in its raw form here in Formative Justice.
The Habita: the first or originary right granted to the university, articulated in the “imperial constitution” of 1158, at the Diet of Roncaglia, willed by Frederick Barbarossa, and granted to the students and faculty of the university of Bologna. As cited in Gabriel Compayre [Abelard, and the Origin and Early History of University, Scriber, 1893/1910]: “We will that the students, and above all, the professors of divine and sacred laws, may be able to establish themselves and dwell in entire security in the cities where the study of letters is practiced. It is fitting that we should shelter them from all harm. Who would not have compassion on these men who exile themselves through love of learning, who expose themselves to a thousand dangers, and who, far from their kindred and their families, remain defenseless among persons who are sometimes of the vilest?”(76)
Aside from the potential for misunderstanding whom the dispensation applies too – that is, a misunderstanding that would believe the Habita is only applicable to the faculty of theology, when, in fact, the university of Bologna was grounded in the study of Roman/Imperial/Justinian law, and thus it must be assumed that in granting this privilege, Barbarossa was, in effect, legitimizing his claim to the status of Emperor — the presentation of the Habita [perhaps following the example offered by Agamben] is intended to be part of a recollection of the covenant that establishes the dispensation of the university, specifically, the students and faculty, from the limits of their speech by local authority, with the deconstructive move being the exercise of this right in the form of a performative work that appears as an ‘internal critique’ of the university, as testing of faith in the Habita. This is where the role or identity of the critical educational theorist emerges as one who ‘tests’ or ‘examines’ the university’s ‘tolerance’ for academic freedom.
Further reflections on the Authentica Habita of are important, and should be linked, both in content and form to Agamben’s work on sovereignty. The continuity between the Jusitinian Codex, the extant body of Roman law at the time, is crucial, as noted above, insofar as it seems to be a clear attempt by Barabarossa to legitimize his claim to the title of Emperor by not only placing himself above the local authorities as the ultimate authority, but also insinuating (?) himself into what had become the principal source of study, namely, that very same Justinian Codex. Of course, this served the students and faculty in two important ways. As [citation] has noted, the original faculty at Bologna were living within a paradox: their study of the Codex was, from the standing of the Codex itself, illegitimate, because Justinian had identified [specific] locations as the only legitimate and authentic study of the law: Rome, Constantinople, and….
But this paradox experienced by the original Bologna faculty was, of course, resolved by a fiction issued by Thesodorius.
So the Authentica Habita served the needs of the faculty and students of Bologna insofar as it now appeared to authentically legitimate their study of the Codex, which, by then, had already become an established practice.
And, of course, the Habita also provided, first and foremost, the right to free study, which, for me, is what is most important. Historians place emphasis on the legal privileges and protection it provided. I see this as a fundamental protective that is akin to the walls and ramparts that provide the necessary defense in the case where there is the threat of harm. For me what is most important is Barbarossa’s naming of the faculty and students as those who, though a love learning (philosophia?), occupy a location that is a akin to “an exile”: a prolonged separation from one’s homeland, place of origin. And because of this the Habita is primarily decreed as protection for those who have withdrawn from ‘everyday life’ and taken up the ‘life of the mind,’ and are thereby “able to establish themselves and dwell in entire security in the cities where the study of letters is practiced.” (humanities? Liberal arts?)
Now there is the metaphoric sense of ‘exile’ that builds upon the imagined ‘as if’ of the legitimacy of the practice of studying the Justinian Codex, and, for me, the force of Derrida’s invitation that we should ‘say everything’ even if it is experimental performance, or a work of ‘fiction’ – and this ‘even’ is not an aside but feels like an imperative or a challenge to do the work in this way – is made stronger, or is generated by, or generates more power when we make the following reading of the beginning of the universitatis: it is ‘conceived’ via imagination [I hesitate to use the word ‘contrived’]. [although ‘contrive’ does have a primary denotation that does not carrying the full weight of the pejorative: to plan with ingenuity, to devise, to invent. Moreover, the lingering sense of ‘manipulation’ or ‘scheming’ doesn’t seem to me a problem, and, in fact, gives this origin a kind of intrigue (?), or makes it human, and points toward an less than ideal beginning, or one that does not seek to be apocryphal, but is the self-conscious product of designing and building, of making a location, of claiming a place. Of course, when written in this way, it does come across as bearing the quality and characteristic of a kind of colonial logic….] And because of this beginning the original faculty established “the study of letters” as that exact kind of theoretical work that we might describe as the performance of the oeuvre, the singular work that occupies its own space (understood from a phenomenological and ontological perspective), and in occupying this space is not by intent linked to anything beyond itself. It is ‘self-referential’ in some regards, but in sense it is like the dialogue of thinking: eme emauto, a silent dialogue between the self, the meditation.