As I continue to plug together the pieces of my thesis, I am searching sometimes for the right approach to what is sometimes called analysis and for a voice of sorts that will sit comfortably both on my desk and within this discipline of design. I also continue to notice an ill wind blowing through the corridors of knowledge that have now become the corridors of power. This wind rustles up all kinds of uncomfortable questions about the nature of knowledge and the nature of the institutions which are its traditional custodians.
Two recent readings come to mind, like a door at each end of the corridor. The History Man was Malcolm Bradbury’s morality play on the radical sociologies of late sixties and early seventies university education. In the latest issue of the LRB Marina Warner has followed up to her previous article on why she left her post as a Professor at Essex University.
In the one hand a wry comment on the foibles of the post-war liberal education establishment. In the other an account of the neo-liberal response to what is seen as the moral turpitude of the post-war settlement. And I get on campus and overhear talk of voluntary redundancies, of libraries without books, of falling student numbers and rising executive salaries and see that the faeries have taken over the House of Lords.
Bradbury poked fun at the utopian ideals expressed through the Scandinavian modernist architectural structures of his nineteen sixties humanities buildings. It seems that now the managerialist infrastructures of the whole institution of higher education is poking holes not only in the humanities but also in humanity. And, like Howard Kirk’s over managed but unloved partygoers, not many people seem to be having much fun.
It occurred to me that in these seats of learning, where such rare and valuable collections of incisive thinkers, lucid writers and socially responsible researchers still, for now, gather together, we must surely between us be able to come up with something to counter this perverted mistral of “managerial philistinism” that ultimately threatens to disfigure or destroy voices of all sorts.
Wikipedia on the History Man:
Warner on the disfiguring of higher education:
The Kilburn Manifesto: