Sheets of paper, sheets of flame. The Romans are burning the Great Library again. Today the Liberals and Tories, the British ruling class’s oldest parties, are voting on their own plans to eat the young. Like the Labour government before them, they have realised that educating working-class youth is an unnecessary expense. University fees must rise, subsidies to support teenagers through school must go, and there need be no more pretence that education is for the benefit of anything other than capital.
While the MPs are voting, students will be protesting and resisting heroically, as they have been over the last few weeks, and the ruling class will once again send squads of riot police against them. Schoolkids whose future educations are being stolen from them will instead receive extra lessons in applied batons and horse charges.
As revolutionary Surrealists – and as students, ex-students and education workers, and people who have been taught to read and write – we hardly need to say that we are viscerally opposed to this assault on youth and education. We will fight these education cuts with all the means at our disposal. But we will not do so in the name of defending education. Britain’s education system in its current form is frankly not worth defending.
Cringing Liberals have been pointing to the post-1992 expansion of higher education to justify the fee hikes, arguing that the massive increase in student numbers has made the system unsustainably expensive. Many of those who oppose the rise in fees – including the so-called left wing of the very Labour Party which introduced tuition fees in the first place – say that this newly accessible university is precisely what must be ‘defended’.
But those of us who have worked and studied on these intellectual factory farms know that education in this country has been nothing short of a disaster, from Key Stage 2 SATS to the Research Excellence Framework. Children fed poetry that’s been reduced to the literary equivalent of Turkey Twizzlers; students told that politically flabby post-New Left bullshit is the way to make sense of ‘culture’; academics chasing ever-decreasing funding by publishing in elitist journals with ever-decreasing readerships… Defend that crap? Not on your life.
Where, in all of this, is the beautiful savagery of the mind? Where are the things that are appalling to know, that score the flesh with their uselessness and wonder? Learning is no commodity: it’s an acid to burn money. Bound in human skin, it’s the toxic arcane to be championed, explored, succumbed to, seduced by, conquered. It’s traced in golden words of fire that fall blazing from the page, flaring and dying as we read them, gone in an explosion of unknown suns.
The only library that we defend is the one that’s set alight by its own blazing. Sheets of paper, sheets of flame. The Great Library will burn down Rome.