Some Thoughts on Solidarity and Community

We live in a world constructed to force us to internalize our own insignificance. Every single day we go on with our daily activities, painfully aware that we are caught in an ever-expanding web of impersonal, totalizing power, a power that has, à la Foucault, no source, no origin, no head. Against this impersonal yet palpable power, our narratives of identification are also deeply structured by the images that we see and the stories we read or hear.

The greatest fiction perpetuated in this realm of financialized globe is the idea of individual subjectivity according to which, in the great scheme of things, the individual somehow masters his or her will and becomes a subject of his or her own movement up the so-called social ladder. This is the ideal narrative, for man and woman alone is the idealized object upon which this disembodied but potent power can work its magic.

So, we, having internalized these fictions of self, live our lives pretending to be free and individualistic while every night we enter our houses, close the doors and re-enter the world through the flat screens that offer us, virtually, the kind of world needed to keep us where we are: alone, powerless, and mostly unaware of our real state of being.

But self, and we all know this in a way, is always, as Bakhtin would say it, a “bridge thrown across” by another. That is why we seek symbolic and romantic recognition from the other: we become ourselves, so to speak, through the loving gaze, caring touches, and soothing words of the others. Love makes us who we are, but love always presupposes an other, or else all one has left is a destructive narcissistic self.

This insignificance that has now become a global way of life dictates our actions, polices our thoughts, and frames our self-narratives. We are always either too busy, too tired, or simply in too much of a precarious condition to do something, to say something. We even express our outrage in private, for the public, we have learned, is a dangerous space. In this world full of riches and plenty, when it comes to our self-worth, we have, somehow, learned to connect it to what we have and not who or what we are.

The question that we must pose to ourselves is simple: Are we noble? Yes, noble: an old fashioned word that has lost its significance in this world of enormous wealth and heartbreaking poverty and suffering. For if we are noble, we will, sometimes, stop to offer a word of kindness, a helping hand, a look that lifts someone’s spirit, an acknowledgment of the humanity of someone else, for, ultimately, it is only when we recognize the humanity of the others that we truly become human.

In this world, then, our only recourse, our only hope lies in solidarity with others, in being noble to each other. We also always imagine that the only form of heroism is something beyond the common scale, something monumental and since we conflate nobility with heroics, we also, always, find both the heroic and the Nobel beyond our reach. But heroism is not about scale, for anyone trained for years and given the biggest guns and tanks available can go and fight a war. True heroism, true nobility is the one we perform every single day: a smile and a kind word to the person who serves us our coffee, a thank you to a stranger who holds the door for us, a smile to someone who crosses our path. These are noble acts, acts that make us human and allow us to share our humanity.

This cause for the library started the very day sectarian violence claimed eight lives in my home town in Pakistan; In fact the city was under an indefinite curfew when we launched our Facebook page. Compared to that tragedy, attempting to save the library might seem like a mundane affair. But it is crucial to fight these fights, for we do not pick the scale of our fights nor do we choose what stands we would take and for what cause, but all we can resolve to do is to stand for something slightly larger than ourselves. I know, I know against the inexorable power that courses through the very fiber of this world, most of our efforts are doomed to failure, especially if we stand alone.

It is standing together, shoulder to shoulder (literally and virtually) that we send a strong message to the powers that be. It is in solidarity that we can learn to destroy the fiction of our flawed individualism. No, we do not lose ourselves into others: we rather stand together and share our energies so that the isolated oneness upon which rests the entire project of power is dismantled and replaced by a communal and loving way of thinking ourselves.

Save the UNT library movement is a great example of this solidarity, this power of the community: it is not a monumental cause, but a cause that has brought us together and taught us that in solidarity, in coming together for a cause we become more than ourselves. We become noble.

Devastating News for the UNT Library

I just came back from an open meeting of the faculty and staff with Dr. Martin Halbert, Dean of libraries, University of North Texas. During our discussion some salient aspects of the new budget cuts to the library’s budget were shared and discussed.

It seems that under some arcane rule, the library staff are paid not with the state of Texas funds but by the funds raised through the library usage fees charged to the students by UNT. It has suddenly been told to the library administrators that effective immediately, the salaries and benefits of the library staff must now be covered from the library usage fees. The university is reluctant to raise the usage fees so there is no chance of increasing the funds available.

As a result, as per the current estimates, the library will have to cut about 1.7 million dollars/ annum from its allocation for materials and subscriptions to fill this budget shortfall. This could have devastating effects on the functioning and quality of our research libraries.

For example, while there are no plans to lay off workers, the library is expected to cancel certain number of their journal and database subscriptions to cover the budget shortfall. This means that not only will the faculty and students lose access to numerous resources vital to their research and education, but that the library will also lose the negotiated price of these resources. For each research bundle, the University library usually negotitates a suitable price, but if the they cancel these subscriptions now, then any time in the future the  re-acquisitions will have to be according to the market prices of the databases at that time, which is likely to be higher than the locked in rate at this time.

Furthermore, these cuts would also impact the number and amount of resources the university needs to hold to make sure that various departments can meet their national accreditation standards. Such sudden loss of resources could thus also imperil the accreditation for some of our programs and devalue the degrees that our students are working so hard to obtain.

On the whole while this drastic decision has just recently been conveyed to the library, if nothing is done and if these cuts do go into effect, the faculty and the students are likely to be the biggest losers. It is imperative on us to come together and help the library and to convince our administration that defunding the UNT library is not the right way to achieve the four bold goals that they keep talking about.

We have created this blog and a Facebook page to reach as many of you as possible. Please join us, share your views, and help us launch a collective strategy to restore funding for our library.

(Posted from Save the UNT Library)

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Now Published: “Critical Pedagogy and Global Literature: Worldly Teaching”

Critical Pedagogy and Global Literature: Worldly Teaching (New Frontiers in Education, Culture, and Politics)

Edited by Masood Ashraf Rja, Zach VandeZande, Hillary Stringer

Series Editor: Kenneth Saltman

I just wanted to share the exciting news that our collection of essays focused on teaching CPof world literature has now been published and is available to order through

The idea for this wonderful collection of essays evolved during an independent study that I conducted with two of my brilliant colleagues and graduate students: Zach VandeZande and Hillary Stringer. Both of them are working on their Ph.Ds in creative writing and had requested to work on a course focused on various narrative forms.

At the end of our course, instead of writing traditional research papers, we decided to put together an anthology of critical essays about teaching of world literature. This theme was exceptionally important to all of us given the emphasis on world literature classes on our own campus.

As a result, both Hillary and Zach drafted the Call for Contributions, which was sent out in April 2011. After that we also contacted major figures in the field of critical pedagogy and requested them to contribute. I was impressed by the generosity of the established scholars in the field as most of them agreed to contribute their latest work toward our volume. We also received a large number of essays through our general call and selected the ones best suited for our project.

The book is divided into two major parts: Part 1 focuses on theoretical engagements with world literature filtered through various aspects of critical pedagogy; pat two includes short chapters written by teachers of world literature. I feel that this book could be a great resource for all those interested in a more nuanced and informed approach to teaching world literature.

I would like to convey my thanks to all our contributors. My thanks also to both of my co-editors who took the time, during the busiest stage of their doctoral education, to help put this wonderful collection together.

Please view the details about the book on Amazon or on the publisher’s website and, if you like it, ask your library to order it.