This essay will not be about the Street University. I’m tired of retelling the story. Anyone who has heard of it, regardless of their opinion of the experiment, knows that its “self-organized classes are held in the street” and its “actions are aimed at putting the public back into public space.” But what is the Street University really, with its disorderly organization, its surplus capacity for generating myths, and the constant disappointments and charms this practice provokes in its participants.
Actually, it all happens like this. Despite the rules of order that are always being drawn up, to this day no one understands how the mechanism of creating the curriculum functions. Although there are announcements of well-known or personally interesting lecturers, there is always the risk of “coming for nothing” as it were. If in the beginning there was a danger of attacks by cops or Nazi skinheads, now there is a fear of certain “microphone hogs” appearing. The discussion is also constantly under the threat of euthanasia at the whim of the person responsible for that particular day’s program or “prevailing weather conditions.” And, of course, it is always cold—at least in Petersburg. What is the use of this profanation, even if it is a profanation in the Agambenian sense, that is, the only possible response to the sacred underpinning of everyday practices, to the increasing officialization of the sites of knowledge and lifestyle production? Beyond the answer contained in this clarification of the question, we are talking about an exercise in community, about testing our capability to simply be together with others, despite all the shortcomings; together with others whom you don’t even really know, just as you don’t really know whether they are truly close to you ideologically; to be together with new, unexpected people at least once a week. Just as a certain number of books must be read accidentally, so a certain amount of time can and should be snatched from our thoroughly pragmatized everyday life. Aside from the “subversive” topics under discussion, this anthropological experiment itself is basically political, since it is an “activity that suspends activity,” a kind of promise that a new use for collective time and urban space will be invented. The territory of the city, as it has been shaped by centuries of police demarcating procedures, and the time of social reproduction, vigilantly measured out in hours, are most vulnerable not to seizure, but to “misuse.” The “indescribability” of this community and its escape from social genres of leisure time, just like the absence of a name for what this community should produce, is also a guarantee of maximum freedom of action.
Thus, the Street University, in addition to its declared “production of critical knowledge in the street,” teaches the skill of a togetherness that is not burdened by the imperatives of productivity and not subjected to profitability checks, just as the contemporary university, in addition to the disciplines studied there, primarily teaches social discipline as such; so much the more has it replaced the program of “developing all human abilities” with instruction in economic adaptation. We have noticed long ago that the encounters in Solyanoy Alley tend to grow into extracurricular collective flaneurship and encourage us to perfect the art of synchronized living. And this is exactly what we can expect these days from “our universities.”