Thursday, 2 July 2015

The New Laidlaw Library at the University of Leeds - Part 1

On Knowledge and Phalluses

The new Laidlaw Library is almost in full working order following its recent completion. The students are in place, even though the books have yet to be moved across during the summer break. I attended the launch of its associated sculpture on June 11: A Spire by Simon Fujirawa (see below).

I do appreciate the context of this ‘chimney’ sculpture, oriented in an industrial city as it is, not least since the university was originally funded by industry in its early days as the Yorkshire College. However, on one level it is just another phallus (and I was not the only person commenting on this at the launch). If this is the case, what does this say about knowledge and the phallus, I wonder. If A Spire is a nod to Leeds’ past, then we can intrinsically tie this to education since the colleges that preceded the University of Leeds – The Yorkshire College and Medical School – provided education to the sons (only) of the local bourgeoisie:
It is important to note that while the forming of the Yorkshire College was a reaction against an exclusive further education for just the upper classes, the college was providing education for the middle-classes only, in the form of an education for the sons of local merchants in the fields of science and the arts. (Richardson 2014)
In cultural theory the phallus is “the order of spacing, according to which the law is inscribed and marked as difference.” (Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe 1992, p.46). And difference (sexual difference) pushes the terms of difference outwards, fixing them in opposing domains: men - women. Woven around this ‘story’ that fixes the individual (it subjects them) in language (and hence in culture) is an intricate illusion for this linguistic subject. An illusion that gives the impression of orientation, autonomy and access to truth, what Louis Althusser would describes as the “structure of misrecognition”, the ego’s inability to see itself outside of any ideological structures (2006, p.149).

The subject (in this instance the university) believes the phallus belongs to him. He believes his mastery over language (knowledge) means he owns the phallus, but he doesn't have the phallus, he only has the penis-sculpture. The university as the speaking subject (that of one oriented in the institutional power structure and hence in ‘control’ of the discourse), is actually, therefore, oriented in a “structural hole” (Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe 1992, p.46).

I originally had a section on the Laidlaw Library in an early draft of my thesis (2014). Unfortunately I had to cut it out due to space issues. You can read the full thesis here – The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of a Redbrick – but I’ll include the original section I wrote about the new library, during its development, in part 2 of this blog.

Althusser, Louis. 2006. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. by Ben Brewster (Deli: Aakar Books).
Nancy, Jean-Luc and Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe. 1992. The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan, trans. by Francois Raffoul and David Pettigrew (Albany: State University of New York Press).
Richardson, Tina. 2014. ‘The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of a Redbrick’. University of Leeds.

Related Links:
Contemplating Olympic Space, the Shard and Architectural Phalluses in General

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