Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Burden of the Humanities

by Wilfred M. McClay

Lamentations about the sad state of the humanities in modern America have a familiar, indeed almost ritualistic, quality about them. The humanities are among those unquestionably nice endeavors, like animal shelters and ­tree-­planting projects, about which nice people invariably say nice things. But there gets to be something vaguely annoying about all this cloying uplift. One longs for the moral clarity of a swift kick in the ­rear.

Enter the eminent literary scholar Stanley Fish, author of a regular blog for The New York Times, who addressed the subject with a kicky piece entitled “Will the Humanities Save Us?” (Jan. 6, 2008). Where there is Fish there will always be bait, for nothing pleases this contrarian professor more than ­double-­crossing his readers’ expectations and enticing them into a heated debate, and he did not ­disappoint....

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