To speak . . .

Stephen Turner and I will be talking about the neo-Gothic architecture of the neoliberal university at the Unsettled Containers: Aspects of Interiority Conference at The University of Auckland, 8-10 October 2010.

The abstract:

Crystal Capital: the Business of University Building

For Peter Sloterdijk, the Crystal Palace, venue in the 1850’s of the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Continents,” expressed the “global inner space [Weltinnenraum] of capital” (2008: 11). The word Weltinnenraum, from poet Rainer Maria Rilke, implies a pantheistic space disclosed by affect:

Everything beckons us to perceive it. … One space spreads through all creatures equally – inner-world-space [Weltinnenraum]. Birds quietly flying goflying through us. Oh, I that want to grow, the tree I look outside at grows in me! (1957: 193)

What is disclosed in the enclosure of the splendid University of Auckland Owen G. Glenn Business School building is the pantheistic affect of transnational or “transcendental” capital (Hage, 2003: 18-20). In its see-through space, an outside – every other place, in fact – grows in us. There, everything communicates psychically with everything else in the code of capital: the language – the logo-rhythm – of the academosphere is encoded according to the design-drive of econometrics, namely, in terms of economic calculability and accountability. And the mission of the University is growth, a mission that transcends its onetime imperative to educate and demands a glasshouse of industry: in Sloterdijk’s terms, an “immaterialized” and “temperature-controlled” enclosure (2008: 12).

The architecture of this glasshouse is transcendental, a negative monumentality, affording a Crystal Palace-like sense of transparency, lightness, flotation, vacuum. Its pantheistic affect is generated by three main features: generous atria, curved rather than rectilinear surfaces, and the use of glass as prima materia. This is the negative theology of neo-liberal Gothic, “a transcendental architecture composed of space, light, line, and geometry,” now aspiring outward to all places, rather than upward to heaven (Trachtenberg and Hyman, 1986: 252). Neo-liberal Gothic aims both to immaterialize and interiorize, to capture a positive void of investment space for transcendental capital. As Chris Barton writes in the NZ Herald, “[t]he building cuts and thrusts . . . slicing the air. It means business” (2008: n.p.). And its glass and steel exterior displays the transparency and integrity of its inner processes, practices and products. Today the University is business.

University of Auckland Business School Owen G. Glenn Building, Auckland, New Zealand.

However, the design-drive of transcendental capital makes human fallibility an excrescence. All the machinery of education – classrooms and cloisters, books, writing, projectors and operating systems – is screened out; the all-but-translucent architecture is mirrored in the ap- parent transparency of its processes, practices and products. Education approximates to thaumaturgy. All we see is surfaces on and through which magic is worked: “open” spaces and open plan offices; terminals, real or virtual; images, projections, GUIs, and panels. The human scale is discounted, via amplification and wireless connection, in favour of the telematic (Gk “acting at a distance”) and the telemetric (Gk “measuring at a distance”). The danger of this disclosure of the one space of the transcendental university, a space that grows in us and in which we grow as teachers and learners, is that it closes out the many human foibles by which education flourishes: just talking, being idle, sharing, charity, invention.


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