From the 1960s there has been a series of radical organisations aiming to revolutionise educational practice, including Joseph Beuys's Free International University. But, as Howarth asks, what is the way to live today?
“How to begin? At a chosen moment in a vacant country house (mill, abbey, church or castle) not too far from the City of London, we shall foment a kind of cultural “jam session”: out of this will evolve the prototype of our spontaneous university... We envisage an organisation whose structure and mechanisms are infinitely elastic; we see it as the gradual crystallisation of a regenerative cultural force, a perpetual brainwave, creative intelligence everywhere recognising and affirming its own involvement.”
Today, many of us vote without recollecting why we have the political systems that we do, choose our jobs by accident as much as design and get married without knowing how such an institution came into being. Our lives are our answers to Plato’s question – what is the right way to live? – but our education fails to provide us with the means to think wisely and deeply about it. Once at the university of life we have to screw up in order to learn how to do things better. But what if we could gain more wisdom through conversations and less by hard knocks? What if we could access the insights and experiences of previous generations?
The ambition for a more porous relationship between cultural activity and public space has a long history.