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In the Ruins of the University: Institution in Personal and Public History

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Alan Read, Forster -, Heighes -

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-25
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Early online date23 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

(eds.) Argyropoulou, G, and Vourloumis, H.


King's Authors


My title is a conflation of two sources that would appear to mark two ends of a cycle between promise and petrification. The first a bowdlerization of Bill Readings’, now two decade-old work, The University in Ruins published after his untimely death. The second the title of a course taught by Maurice Merleau-Ponty at the College de France in 1954-1955. By reaching back towards Merleau-Ponty's exploration of meaning, how meaning in instituted, how it is transformed, how sense is ‘deposited’ as Merleau-Ponty puts it in beings and institutions, and importantly how innovation can arise in such relations, I would wish to historicise a moment of threat to any such expectation of innovation, any hope that institutions might be expected to institute anything. Bill Readings’ eloquent work chimes with that accord for a ‘threatened field’, it echoes for me and in me, still, in its insights for the University today: “We have to recognise that the University is a ruined institution, while thinking what it means to dwell in those ruins without recourse to romantic nostalgia.” There is, as Claude Lefort explained when considering Merleau-Ponty's course, but equally might have been channeling Bill Readings’ principle theme: ‘[ … ] no call to the future which does not imply a decline of the past.” In this essay I would like to put Merleau-Ponty's lecture within a University, and Bill readings’ book about a University into play with each other to understand something about my own institutional history, working alongside the theatre makers Forster & Heighes, at Dartington College of Arts, at Rotherhithe Theatre Workshop, at the London International Festival of Theatre, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, at Roehampton University, and at King's College London. Institutions where nothing need happen, but something, apparently, did.

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