Rebuilding the University

What do you do when the only university in your country is dependent upon the intellectual ideas of the management class of a different country and trains your country’s young people in the finer points of their use? Perhaps, you look to see what other people in this situation do, and where better to look than to the Middle Eastern diaspora. In keeping with the old ideal, long since abandoned in the new global university, of a university being a meeting place of intellectual, artistic and spiritual languages, I think this might be what the university of the future looks like in a multicultural country:

The Bidoun Library

A political and social gathering place of all Middle Eastern printed material, no matter how ephemeral, within an art gallery, and arranged according to the principles of artistic curation.

Brilliant. In keeping with its gestures, I have photographed this magazine rather than looking for its electronic counterpart.  There’s something permanent about having material like this that you can touch.

Fuse Magazine

Never dull. Always looking forward, or at least sideways.

What is the Bidoun Library? Well, here from the Fuse herself, scrolling up like the titles from Star Wars…

The Political Purpose of the Bidoun Library

Practically, it is a collection of all printed material on the Middle East, from five main sources: publishing for money, government publishing, business publishing, publishing of the left, and publishing since September 11, 2001.

A lot of the Bidoun Library is advertising. A lot of it covers the secret revolution within teen magazines in Egypt last year, that underpinned the revolution. Some of it looks like this:

Imagine, an intellectual tradition that travels the world, collects material on a subject, and pins it to walls for human viewing, without classrooms, curricula, or what in the world of the academic subject called Creative Writing is known as “getting a foot in the door and clawing my way to the top.” (Quote from a local novelist who, you would think, might be home writing a novel.) Imagine, an intellectual tradition that realizes that the future is now, right here, and makes it known to everyone. The Bidoun Library is brilliant curation. Compared to one comment I heard recently from a Creative Writing teacher, that she gave her students only student work as models because the work of published writers would intimidate them and dampen their creativity, it is scrupulously respectful.


Even the Paragraphs of the Fuse Article are Laid Out Like a Gallery

I imagine such a library here, in the Okanagan Okanogan, spanning the US  Canadian Border, showing in art galleries from Brewster, Washington to Enderby, British Columbia, and including everything published here, printed here, and written here, for people to walk through and use as a resource as we move forward into the Age of the Image. Right now, my city, Vernon, British Columbia, is contemplating a new Art Gallery, on the basis of a museum. That’s close. Closer yet, would be to merge with the museum and the new local library into one integrated meeting place, a university of the future, rather than a record of the past, that could pop up in any city in the region, be knocked down into boxes, loaded on a truck, and set up the next night in another: a moving target. We wouldn’t need new busses to take our children there. We could go there with them. At the moment, what material that has been collected is scattered around, some of it in distant Vancouver, some in a campus on the northern outskirts of Kelowna, and all of it in the private, academic library of a distant culture’s university.

Searching at the University of British Columbia’s Library

It would be fantastic if we could have fruit packing labels, political cartoons, advertising slogans, and all of the other museum-style ephemera catalogued here amongst the books. Now that books are vanishing, it’s time to make our galleries into living sculptures, that we can use to sculpt our societies, in the way that universities did in the distant past, because if we don’t, we get this…

Don Gayton’s Essential Book Archived in the Rare Books Collection

Like the Gutenberg Bible. Except, unlike the Gutenberg Bible, there are no other editions, although it should be widely disseminated and part of social discussion and planning.

It’s time, I think, to bring our cities to life and return the discussion to our squares and streets. Tomorrow, I’ll show you images from a city in British Columbia that is doing just this. I think it would be fantastic to gather a gallery together like this, on the subject of food culture and history in ours, the ancient homeland of the Syilx. It’s time to come home.

6 replies »

  1. what do you do when you go grocery shopping? you don’t buy everything. you first decide what you would ideally like, and then you look at your budget….what do you wish for the university to accomplish?


    • Good point. I’ll have to make a post on that. I believe in universities building from the ground up, using the culture of their place and extending that into full capacity to dialogue with cultures of other places. In place of that we have a global system, with many benefits but with great flaws in dealing with local needs. That can be fixed, but perhaps not without alternate methods. Anyway, thanks for making me stop and realize what has been left out here. I’ll try to clear this up early next week.


  2. Agreed on the essential wisdom of Don Gayton’s book. All his books, actually.

    Curious to hear your impressions of the new library in Vernon — is it set up to meet the needs you’re describing here? Could it be adaptable enough to provide some of these curatorial services and spaces? In some ways I’d have more faith in libraries than universities…


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