To home page

Annual Display in Baroda »


Annual Display in Shantiniketan »




Babel tower by Brueghal

IBM: Ideology, Babel And Museum
The Myth and Reality of Universities

Started in 2003 as a curatorial project, JohnyML has been working on the notion of ‘University as Museum’ for the last four years. In this three part discussion he brings in various scholarly views on universities and museums and says that Universities are the spaces worth fighting for and generating art projects.

University, according to the Collins Concise Dictionary, is ‘an institution of higher education having authority to award bachelors’ and higher degrees, usually having research facilities. It further explains; the buildings, members, staff or campus of a university. Its origin is traced to the Latin word Universitas, a group of scholars, guild, body of men etc.

These definitions bring in three main points to light. One, university is a space which is made into a place through the exchange of ideas and dissemination of knowledge by a group of men/women within certain fixed parameters. The word authority connotes to the fact that there is a pre-figured structure that mediates the imparting of knowledge. Two, the admixture of building, members and staff paints an imaginative picture of a university, which is chaotic in nature and cacophonic in sound. It is conveyed that within the authoritarian structure of the university, the transcendental agenda is always thwarted by this very cacophony of dissimilar voices (read ideas and expressions), as heard from the members (students), staff (pedagogues) and bureaucrats (administrative staff). Three, with these pre-fixed structures and dissimilar ensembles of edifices and voices give the universities a quality that is peculiar to the museums.

I would like to abstract these three ideas, which are going to be the three points of departure of my project. First of all, I would like to consider university as an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA, as formulated by Louis Althusser). Second, university (-ies) as Babel Tower, which is an unfinished project (here I would, perhaps overlook the mythological factor that the chaos of the builders of this tower was externally imposed on them by God/Authority, as against their inherent uniformity and univocal-ity). And finally my proposition is to locate the university (-ies) as a museum (with all its ideological and structural peculiarities).

Discussion 1

As we have seen in the outset, university is an inclusive term. It contains not only the idea of imparting of knowledge, but it encompasses the buildings, staff and other paraphernalia related to the seat of excellence also. That means, the word has both a physical and ideational structure contained in it.

However, a further distinction is possible. While the term ‘University’ generally signifies the idea of knowledge and its hierarchical downhill flow, the term ‘campus’ qualifies the physicality of this very flow of knowledge, complete with the college buildings, staff rooms, administrative blocks, departments, libraries, laboratories, lavatories, canteens, recreation halls, halls of residence, parks, students union buildings and in total the buzzing activities of the students and staff on a day to day basis. In other words, I would like to qualify university as a territory whose boundaries are respected ‘naturally’ by people who act both in public and private realms. On the contrary, campus is a territory whose boundaries are militantly protected by the members (occupiers) of the campus and at the same time feared by the people who act in public and private realms. (See the caution notices like ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted, Speed Limit 20 km, Don’t Litter this Place, No Horn Please, No Through Fare etc).

In other words, the notion of university could be alluded to the notion of a State, which is ruled by a benevolent despot and a similarity could be drawn between the campus and the militants who protect themselves both from the state and other external invasions. The campus protects itself and militates against the university. Like the nomads in Deleuze and Guattari’s observations, the campus constantly prepares war machines against the university that tries to curb the rebellion and imposes the rule of law. But there is a clear contradiction in this militancy of the campus, which I would discuss soon.

Florence Lipsky, a scholar who has contributed to the documentation of Christian Phillip Mueller’s project ‘Campus as a Work of Art’ (Branding the Campus, edited by Beatrice Von Bismarck, Diethelm Stoller, Astrid Wege and Ulf Wuggenig, Publishers: Richter Verlag), makes two interesting observations in her essay titled ‘City and University- ON the way to the university’s identity’:

“The terms ‘campus’ employed for the first time at Princeton University in 1770 was established as early as 1820 and by extension taken to mean the design of the ensemble of an American University’s buildings and grounds.” (P.48)

And Lipsky says again: “One can claim without fear of contradiction that an institution as significant as a university cannot exist without clearly marking out its territory. Spatially, this presence makes itself felt at the very moment one crosses the pavement that distinguishes the public highway from the campus. Even symbolically, in a site dedicated to knowledge, this effect of crossing the threshold, signaling transition and entrance must be deliberately and obviously displayed.”

Keeping these arguments attached to my proposition, I would like to say that despite this clear demarcation between university and campus (as objects of public/private gaze, understanding and respect) there are certain moments (remember it is not a spatial issue but clearly a temporal, therefore attitudinal one) that dissolves these golden lines into indistinguishable tones of grey. To put it in nutshell, the hierarchical, therefore authoritarian structure and attitude of the university at times find its reflection in the campus itself. The campus then, consciously or unconsciously replicates the authoritarianism against which it vowed to be militating.

The contradiction that mentioned earlier, manifests in the campus’ replication of the ideas of the university. University protects its ‘universality’ through the formulation of its ‘locally’ appreciated laws. It is this emphasis on the ‘locality’ within the universality of universities that makes one university different from the other.

“Wherever a university is established it has a dual nature, both local and global, hence its ambition to participate in the universal task of transmitting and producing human knowledge. It claims the world as its field of investigation, while also defining itself as a territory from which it aspires to universality.” (Florence Lipsky. Ibid. P.45)

What Lipsky calls the ‘territory’ or ‘local’ is the point I am interested in. This local is the production field of ideology of the state. Substantiating the claims of the local/territory means nothing but the substantiation of the idea of the state. State, thus comes to play a major role in the formulation of the university. Campus that tends to militate against this constant process of ideological formation, at times falls prey to this intrigue. Thus university and campus in total becomes an organ of the state and Althusser calls it as ‘Ideological State Apparatus’.

Contd.. »

« Prev. [1] [2] [3] [4] Next »


Home About us Contact