This university exists and does not exist. University of Galway’s ‘Designing Futures’ programme is already helping undergraduates in our joint honours Arts and Science programmes take multi-perspectival pathways through their learning and benefit directly from interaction with professionals across a variety of sectors. They are actively shaping their own futures in ways the traditional Arts and Science degrees did not foresee and those programmes are unlikely to stay the same as a result. Yet we need to go much further if universities are truly to reignite the social imaginary. Like in the short story, ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ (1941), a labyrinth of alternatives is in sight at all points in time, and as a multi-dimensional function of time – all those different selves we could be, could have been, and could still be – and yet we turn away from it because it asks us to think in ways in which we are not routinely schooled. That story ends in cold-blooded murder and eternal contrition. In our fear, when faced with multiple simultaneities, multiple versions of ourselves, we choose not to keep options open. Ironically this means we close down our possibilities precisely when we most need to find alternative courses of action.
Let’s wedge the door open then, and keep going in Borges’s labyrinth. No course can run in the Creative University, no research project be undertaken without having first to tell the story, through the words, images, or data most appropriate to it, of how it changes the world. This is both preposterous and perfectly practicable. The short story, ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ (1941), coolly works through how someone writing in twentieth-century France might re-write parts of Don Quixote word for word, finally alighting on exactly the same words as the original seventeenth-century Castilian Spanish but through their own artistic free will. Such an outcome, Borges explains, results in a piece of art with a radically different meaning from the only seemingly identical original. Context is all.