''When do you go back to work?'' asks an in-law, over a New Year's Day braai, curious about the apparent peculiarities of academic life. “Well, there's admin stuff to do starting next week, though teaching proper doesn't begin till the end of February” I explain; “but at the moment I'm really trying to get to grips with my writing and research projects. What I'm working on right now -”
''What did you bring to read?'': the usual question I put to my academic guests. For renowned Marxist critic Terry Eagleton's week of classes at the University of Cape Town last month, there were three authors: Marcel Proust, Fredric Jameson and John le Carré. ''It's funny, isn't it?'' notes Eagleton. ''You mention the name Proust and it's so immediately offputting.''
A significant tension -- if not downright contradiction -- is at work in the onÂgoing transformation of South Africa's university system. Under the singular name of transformation, two projects with distinct and largely opposed political intentions are at work in changing the ecology of higher education. Current policy is stretched between the pull of democratic redress and the push of neoliberal reorganisation.