The London Anti-University

This newsclip of the London Anti-University from 1968 is wonderfully evocative, not just for the interviewees’ earnest insistence that they could change the world of education, but also through the grim tattiness of late 1960s Shoreditch, reproduced in glorious colour.

The London Anti-University was formed after participants at 1967’s Congress on the Dialectics Of Liberation at the Roundhouse decided they wanted to continue to explore some of the themes and conversations that had started there (sample debates: The Future of Capitalism; Black Power; Imperialism and Revolution in America).

Based at 49 Rivington Street – previously home of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign – the Anti-University was opened in February 1968 by David Cooper and Alan Krebs, and featured lecturers such as Cornelius Cardew, CLR James, Robin Blackburn, Bob Cobbing, RD Laing, Yoko Ono, Jeff Nuttall, John Latham and Alex Trocchi – all key figures on the intellectual left-wing of the 1960s counterculture.  The Anti-University syllabus covered three main areas: radical politics, existential psychiatry and the artistic avant-garde. 

 Poster announcing the opening of the Antiuniversity of London (1968)

An idea of the direction of the Anti-University can be gleaned by a reported exchange at Joseph Berke’s course on ‘anti-universities, anti-hospitals, anti-theatres and anti-families’.

He asked the class: ‘How can we discuss how we can discuss what we want to discuss?’ After a long silence, somebody answered ‘Maybe we don’t need to discuss it.’ Berke pondered this for a while and then left; the class continued for an hour despite his absence.

The Anti-University lasted almost a year, which isn’t bad by the standards of the time, but it’s premises soon became squatted, and the landlords, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, reclaimed the campus.

But the Anti-University’s most important legacy may have come from a conversation in the classroom of psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell, who lectured on literature and psychology.

One of Mitchell’s students, Diana Gravill, had inherited some money and was intending here to spend it on a women’s refuge. Mitchell instead persuaded her to put it towards a bookshop. This she did, and the shop, named Compendium, was opened by Gravill and her partner Nicholas Rochford on Camden High Street in August 1968.

Over the next thirty years it became one of the world’s great bookshops, stocking everything from academic studies of the women’s movement to punk fanzines. It was still going strong when I used to go there in the late 1990s, fascinated and intimidated by the content of the bookshelves. It eventually closed in 2000, a sad end to one of London’s greatest counterculture institutions, but a longstanding tribute to the ideas and passions raised by the London Anti-University.

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6 responses to “The London Anti-University

  1. Pingback: Best of Recent Blogs #9 « London Historians' Blog

  2. Im fine with self-institutionalisation all over the field but I have problems with trying to set up a model for others…HS It says it here in the ABZ of The Copenhagen Free University It is our hope that you instead of dreaming of the Copenhagen Free University or London Anti-University or Free University of New York or the Spontaneous University go where you live and establish your university drawing upon the knowledges in your own networks . This is really what occurs in capitalist society that the desires obviously advertising and branding are a key example of how desires and passions are actually manufactured for you and it becomes a kind of vicious loop in the sense that if youre not partaking in those passions that are circulated for profit or can be harnessed for profit then somehow youre abnormal and the whole issue of anti-psychiatric institutions comes again into play overlapping with educative initiatives because weve got this kind of barrier to desire in that giving forms to passion is seen as perversion not normal its like thats a good rallying cry. So instead of being anti-institutional were saying we are building an institution and in this way we arent maintaining the romantic notion of an outside of institutions because institutions are in language and minds and in desire as well.

  3. Another great idea that died on the vine, conform, conform, conform…..but no idea for free thought o0t free expression it seems…………..why are people so afraid of things outside the box????

  4. Pingback: Inside the Bank of Ideas | The Great Wen

  5. Fascinating – we need to PROMOTE THIS type of thing now!

  6. Please check out the Antiuniversity Now project (est 2015) – http://www.antiuniversity.org

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