The University’s Desire and the Half-Bridge

| April 14, 2011

Deleuze & Guattari, in their extraordinary (and admirably concise) book on Kafka, suggest, amongst a series, the following rule of thumb: “a text that can be the seed of a novel will be abandoned if Kafka imagines an animal escape that allows him to finish with it.” (38) In other words, if it can be solved at the level of the short story, it will be.

In that spirit, I have pulled out the following two slides from my presentation several weeks ago for the launch of Ecogradients, as an attempt to forestall what threatens to become a much larger project. Perhaps they will serve to plug the gap, release the idea, or send it back underground to proliferate in the dark.

Pulled out of context—I was proposing a challenge that faces the spatial narratives of Interdisciplinarity—on their own they speak to the question of the University’s Desire, and particularly its love of bridges. But actual-bridges (and by this I simply mean functioning bridges, and imply nothing about their physicality) present a real problem for Universities. And so they prefer, whether they realize it or not, to dream of them in a rather particular way…

The University Dreams of Half Bridges

Just as the half-bridge leaves it to your imagination to project and fill in the occluded elements, I will leave open the list of ways and levels on which this “metaphor” operates within the workings of the University. Let just one example suffice. And here we do not have to look far for one that runs through multiple levels of operation. It is as if the University cannot help but express its conflicted logic. We take our cue here from a piece in the New York Times, on the new interdisciplinary science building at Columbia University, appropriately enough entitled: A Building Forms a Bridge Between a University’s Past and Future.

This, I take it, is one of those inadvertent moments where the truth is articulated way more precisely than we are used to. The author, Nicolai Ouroussoff, could not have been more accurate:

…the building is a gleaming physical expression of the university’s desire to bridge the divide between the insular world of the campus and the community beyond its walls.

Ouroussoff manages a concision to make Kafka proud, articulating and praising, in this short article, an entire dream work of the University. (And it should go without saying that this vision is not particular to Columbia University.)

The    University's Desire

What is omitted from this account, however—and should be obvious to the most cursory of examinations—is that if a gleaming bridge of healing is what the University desires, almost as if of necessity…

what it created was a half-bridge…