Wednesday, April 20, 2011

n+1: Why Bother?

By Nicholas Dames

(A comprehensive take on the crisis in the humanities - rks)

Richard Rorty once argued that Western culture needs the novel, in order to force us to imagine lives and destinies different from our own. Perhaps the humanities, in their current plight, need to be novelistic again. Not necessarily in their fictional mode, such as the moribund campus novel genre with its essentially demystifying comedy, but the novelistic ability to marshal narratives and details that give us back some sense of why the humanities exist for individuals — how, to put it bluntly, they still rescue lives. One doesn’t enter the academy to become a disillusioned professional (although that will happen along the way). One doesn’t enter it to equip businesses with flexible analytic intellects (although that will also happen). One enters it, shamefacedly and unhappily, perhaps, but enters it nonetheless, in order to devote oneself to something greater than personal resentments — to salvational or transformational modes of thought. Because, put another way, all the grievances that take aim at higher education express real suffering, and that suffering has causes and modes of expression older than most sufferers usually know. The humanities should be, if not their solace, then their weapons of choice. Prig and cynic and naïf she may be, but the newly minted academic knows this — after all, she most likely came from their midst — and one good way of explaining as much is to explain how that knowledge feels. Without such explanations, which might soften resentment into curiosity or sympathy, there may soon be very little left to be embarrassed about.

Link to complete review:
n+1: Why Bother?

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