January 19th, 2005


My first office

Yesterday something extraordinary happened to me. I was handed the keys to my first office. It's a glass-walled space in the Media Architecture department of the Future University, and sits at the top of a cascade of esplanades or 'work decks' within the glass hangar of the main university building. As technicians fussed around installing and networking a computer for me, a 17" G4 Powerbook, I felt an odd mixture of emotions, which I will now number for you in the form of bullet points on my new whiteboard:

Point 1. Surely there's been some mistake! I am a rocker, a poete maudit, a scurrilous rogue, a pirate, a masturbator! I do not deserve an office! Offices are for landlubbers! We poete maudit pirate types are more likely to see the inside of a prison cell than an office! What a strange thing has come to pass!

Point 2. I absolutely must not download any porn to this computer, or play with myself under the desk. I am now a responsible person, an adult, a member of society, an educator, one who must form impressionable youth and turn a blind eye to its nubile curves, its pert... no, no, stop, stop, Professor! Think of death, dentistry and taxes...

Point 3. But I absolutely deserve this office. I, if anyone, should have an office in a forward-thinking university, a university of the future! For I am brilliant, one of the great minds of my generation! Imagine if people like me were all given offices, and library passes, and a bunch of electronic equipment, and free time to brainstorm! What an amazingly playful, experimental, edgy, exciting place the world would become!

Point 4. Some extraordinary things have happened this week. I've been offered my own weekly column in a British national newspaper (can't say which until it's confirmed) and the authorship of an art book by a leading art publisher (ditto). But these are sort of freelance things, things I'll do lying on my couch in my bathrobe. They won't change me existentially. They won't really feel like promotion or give me a sense of power. Being given one's own office is quite different. It may only be for six weeks, but it feels like tenure, like mastery.

Point 5. Memories of offices. Other people's offices. My father's office at the British Council, Kolonaki Square, Athens, my father's office at Concordia University, Montreal. Taking the train downtown to visit my father, entering the big modern cube, riding to the fifth floor, greeting my father's secretary. Although I've become more famous than my father, I've never become more important than him. I've never had a secretary.

Point 6. Would I have had an office if I'd become a grad student? Does my brother have an office at Anglia Polytechnic University? I suppose he must. I wonder if he has a secretary? Probably a departmental secretary. I must ask him.

Point 7. These shelves look so bare, I must go down to the library and check out books by Gregory Bateson and people like that so that it looks as if I'm working on some really high level stuff. And maybe I could copy Lehan next door and stick suggestive phrases from Deleuze on the walls to keep me in a fertile, speculative frame of mind.

Point 8. I'll put one of the chairs from the table by the whiteboard in front of my desk so that I can say to people, fellow academics, 'You must drop by, I'm in 526, I'd like to discuss Huizinga's 'Homo Ludens' with you, I hear that's your speciality.'

Point 9. Flashback to the New Year holiday. Staying at my sister's place, watching the DVD of The Office. Am I David Brent now? Will I call people into my office, crack miscalculated jokes and play my songs to them on an acoustic guitar at great length?

Point 10. How's it going to feel when I no longer have an office? I retire from academia in March. Will I still have the stomach for the high seas, the scurrilous skull and crossbones? Or will I have left my heart in the future, in this cool transparent cube?