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The futility of the humanities

Dear Internet friends, this humble blog is getting ready to go on vacation.  I know, I know, how can I go on “vacation” when I spent most of the day yesterday playing golf with Jamie?  (18th hole: Jamie takes driver, 7 iron, 7 iron to the green on a par 4.  Earlier this month, he picked up his first pars, one on the fiendishly difficult par-3 5th and one on the par-3 8th, which required him to hit his tee shot over water.  Sure enough, the first time he cleared the water, he chipped to within 15 feet and then drained the putt.  He chortled in his glee.  As did I.) But this is a very special vacation, the Seekrit Location of which can be gleaned from this old thread, and while I’m gone, this humble blog will lie quiet until mid-July or thereabouts.

Before I go, though, I need to make good on my promise (from this recent post) to write some more stuff on the place of the humanities in today’s society today.  Since I have to do one last gig before I take off on vacation, and since the gig happens to be a conference titled “Beyond Utility and Markets: Articulating the Role of the Humanities in the Twenty-First Century,” I thought it would make sense to begin this post where I end my contribution to that symposium, namely, with the closing passage from William Deresiewicz’s recent Nation review essay on the new wave of Darwinist literary criticism:

There is much talk among the literary Darwinists and their allies about not wanting to go back to the days of “old-boy humanism,” with its “impressionistic” reading and “belletristic” writing. (Only in English departments could good writing be considered a bad thing.) But no matter the age or gender of the practitioner, any really worthwhile criticism will share the expressive qualities of literature itself. It will be personal, because art is personal. It will not be definitive; it will not be universally valid. It will be a product of its times, though it will see beyond those times. It will not satisfy the dean’s desire for accumulable knowledge, the parent’s desire for a marketable skill or the Congressman’s desire for a generation of technologists. All it will do is help us understand who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. Until the literary academy is willing to stand up in public and defend that mission without apology, it will never find its way out of the maze.

OK, well, certainly Deresiewicz knows that the standard complaint about “belletristic” writing is not that it’s well written.  Traditionally, “belletrism” suggests a kind of glib, breezy dilettantism, the kind of thing for which this blog is deservedly notorious.  So let’s get that straight.  But after that glib, breezy parenthesis, the rest of the paragraph is quite wonderful.  And I say so not only because it agrees so nicely with my conclusion in my 2003 essay, “The Utility of the Arts and Humanities,” where I write,

if we understand human history in its historicity, there will be no final answers to any of the questions we might pose about the American Civil War or the rise of the caliphate or the Edict of Nantes or the emergence of homo/hetero classifications for sexuality or any other significant historical event or process; no final interpretations in literature, anthropology, dance, philosophy, or music; no answers that cannot be challenged and answered again from fresh social and historical perspectives.  This is what we humanists do:  we try to determine what it all means, in the broadest sense of “it” and “means,” and just as important, how it all means.

No, I think Deresiewicz’s final paragraph is quite wonderful all on its own.  Its agreement with stuff I believe is just extra bonus points.

And even better, Deresiewicz’s essay contains a bunch of things I wish I’d said, like the conclusion of this piquant paragraph:

Again and again, Darwinian criticism sets out to say something specific, only to end up telling us something general. An essay that purports to explain Shakespeare’s preeminence as a playwright argues instead that drama appeals to us because it portrays the social dynamics of small human groups (as evidenced by the fact that Shakespeare’s casts range from eighteen to forty-seven characters). [Brian] Boyd devotes a hundred pages to the Odyssey without saying anything he couldn’t have said with Anna Karenina or Middlemarch or Proust. The discussion is nothing more than an illustration of Darwinian ideas, not an explication of Homeric meanings. Indeed, it’s an illustration of largely one idea, that before an artist can even worry about meanings, he needs to figure out how to hold his audience’s attention. If the point sounds banal, that is squarely within the emerging disciplinary tradition. I have read any number of Darwinian essays about Pride and Prejudice (one critic calls it their “fruit fly"), but I have yet to read one that told me anything interesting. The idea that the novel is about mate selection does not count as an original contribution.

Now, I haven’t yet read Boyd’s book (I’m slated to review it for the same place I reviewed Alan Sokal’s book last year), so I’ll reserve judgment about that, of course; I’m encouraged to see that Deresiewicz says that Boyd is “a clearer and more careful thinker than most of these other writers,” because those other writers are people like Denis Dutton, whose work has always seemed to me to be a variation on “the giraffe has a long neck, and the elephant has a long trunk, and therefore humans make abstract sculptures, just so!  Thus I have refuted Judith Butler!” But, even with judgment reserved, I have to say I do love Deresiewicz’s final sentence, the idea that the novel is about mate selection does not count as an original contribution.  Besides, everyone knows that Pride and Prejudice is not about mate selection.  Hart Crane’s The Bridge is about mate selection, as is Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” and that’s where your literary Darwinism really comes in handy.

But I can only admire Deresiewicz’s essay so much, you know, because there are a couple of really false notes in it.  Here’s the worst of ‘em:

The humanities, meanwhile, are undergoing their own struggle for survival within the academic ecosystem. Budgets are shrinking, students are disappearing, faculty positions are being lost, institutional prestige has all but evaporated. As the Darwinists are quick to point out, a lot of this suffering is self-inflicted. In literary studies in particular, the last several decades have witnessed the baleful reign of “Theory,” a mash-up of Derridean deconstruction, Foucauldian social theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis and other assorted abstrusiosities, the overall tendency of which has been to cut the field off from society at large and from the main currents of academic thought, not to mention the common reader and common sense. Theory, which tends toward dogmatism, hermeticism, hero worship and the suppression of doctrinal deviation—not exactly the highest of mental virtues—rejects the possibility of objective knowledge and, in its commitment to the absolute nature of cultural “difference,” is dead set against the notion of human universals. Theory has led literary studies into an intellectual and institutional cul-de-sac, and now that its own energies have been exhausted (the last major developments date to the early ‘90s), it has left it there.

This is the kind of thing “Landru” was saying in that recent thread, and I think it’s worth taking up at some length.  So here we go, at some length.

First: there’s a grain of truth in there about the dogmatism and hermeticism associated with Theory.  I touched lightly on that phenomenon in my opening post on the great Valve-Theory’s Empire Wars of 2005, which led this theory-besotted blog to develop the series known as “Theory Tuesdays.” In one of the better contributions to that debate, John McGowan acknowledged,

There is evidence of group-think out there. Let me give an example that bugged me for years. For a long time (happily that time now seems over), lots of people in literary studies knew that if Habermas said it, it must be wrong. The man couldn’t get a fair hearing in certain circles. The reasons for this failure in open-mindedness are many and complex. But we certainly should not discount the bad effects of a lousy job market and of the increasing pressure to publish. Conformity will result when it is very hard to get—and to keep—a place at the Theory’s Empire table.

(The passage has disappeared from the Internets but can be found on page 22 of this fine dead-tree publication, thanks to John Holbo.)

The “if Habermas said it, it must be wrong” era isn’t quite over, as evidenced by the response of some of the Theory crowd to What’s Liberal; that response went something like, “it’s all very well and good to talk about the separation of powers and the relative autonomy of civil society as forms of ‘liberalism,’ but everyone knows that liberalism is really just a stalkinghorse for the imperialist Enlightenment project of universal reason and also cannot account for its imbrication in the system of power/knowledge.” People can write this stuff in their sleep, and some actually do.  Anyway, the claim that Theory involves hero worship is sometimes true.  But then, not everyone who does theory worships Theory’s heroes, and there are plenty of people who hate Theory and worship anti-Theory heroes of their own.

Second: when Deresiewicz charges that Theory “rejects the possibility of objective knowledge and, in its commitment to the absolute nature of cultural ‘difference,’ is dead set against the notion of human universals,” again, there’s a grain of truth there.  Those of us in the humanities who know something about human biology—and this group would include Richard Powers, whose most recent novel Deresiewicz disdained for telling us too much about human biology—tend to agree that the Theory wing reaches for its guns when it hears the term “human universals.” But as for “objective knowledge”—my stars!  What is this thing called “objective knowledge”?  Can you explain it for me?  Can you give me an example of it?  (And don’t give me an example of a brute fact, like “carbon is the sixth element in the periodic table.” Give me an example of something that humans know objectively, independently of their sense impressions, beliefs, etc.) And then, when you’ve done all that, can you give me an explanation of what this appeal to “objective knowledge” is doing in an essay that insists that criticism “will be personal, because art is personal. It will not be definitive; it will not be universally valid”?  Because I could use an objective explanation of what’s going on here.

But enough with the grains of truth already!  Let’s get to the really annoying stuff.

Budgets are shrinking, students are disappearing, faculty positions are being lost, institutional prestige has all but evaporated.

All of these things are true: our budgets are shrinking, our faculty positions are being lost, and our institutional prestige has all but evaporated.  All of these things are true, except the bit about the students.  Honest to Moloch, I’m beginning to think nobody takes me seriously when I cite the Digest of Higher Education Statistics, and that makes me sad.  But go ahead and click that link!  Discover there the shocking and surprising truth—that English enrollments plummeted between 1970 and 1980, from 63,914 degrees to 31,922, and then rebounded thereafter, reaching the 50,000 mark in 1990 and hovering in that vicinity ever since.  In other words, during the years when Theory was at its peak, when everybody knew that Habermas was wrong and that anything Gayatri Spivak told you three times was true, the English major actually drew in tens of thousands of new students, some of whom may actually have liked the fact that their literature classes were places they could read and think and talk about gender and sexuality and textuality and even some of that power/knowledge flimflammery. (And in graduate programs, where Theory was thickest, enrollments soared:  to take one readily-available measure (.pdf), 3,299 humanities doctorates were awarded in 1987, 5,109 in 2007.)

Besides, everybody knows that the decline of the humanities, with regard to funding and prestige, has nothing to do with student enrollment.  It has to do with the Sokal Hoax, which proved once and for all that everything Sokal’s fans can’t stand is objectively wrong.  But since Janet has promised to bury me alive and cover me with quicklime if I ever mention the Sokal Hoax again, I have to offer an alternate theory of What Went Wrong with the Humanities.  And I have decided that the real reason that people no longer trust or respect humanists is that some of us write solemn essays about how their elite educations have rendered them incapable of making small talk with plumbers.  Call it the Higher David Brooksism.  (A serious aside: if your plumber is wearing a Red Sox cap and talks with a thick Boston accent, and you can’t even say a few words to him about the recent history of the Red Sox, that’s not the fault of your elite education.  It’s just you.  Sociability fail.)

More seriously, and on a less personal note: the truly false note in this lament about the baleful reign of Theory is this.

… other assorted abstrusiosities, the overall tendency of which has been to cut the field off from society at large and from the main currents of academic thought, not to mention the common reader and common sense.

To paraphrase the mighty Fafblog, “Oh no! Not common sense! That’s where all my friends live!” Certainly, we can’t have a form of literary criticism that cuts the field off from common sense.  Literary criticism should be devoted to the elaboration of insights that pretty much anybody could come to, and that most people would agree with.

And has Theory and its assorted abstrusiosomousiosites cut the field off from “society”?  Undoubtedly, because that’s where all my friends live, too.  Back in 1970, the field of literary criticism was part of society, and was even mentioned in the society pages of the New York Times.  Then Theory came along, and M. H. Abrams never appeared on The Tonight Show—or in the pages of the Times—again. 

But the claim that Theory has cut the field of literary studies off from “the main currents of academic thought” is surely the strangest claim of all.  Because if there’s one thing that Theory clearly did, for good or for ill (mainly for good, I think, but with my usual caveats), it established a kind of interdisciplinary esperanto for humanists, artists, and social scientists.  As Michèle Lamont put it in one of her guest-posts at Crooked Timber:

The relationship between philosophy and the humanities—where is it going in substantive terms? Is philosophy truly so disciplinarily isolated? With the progressive importation of French structuralism and post-structuralism over the last thirty some years, “European theory”—which generally means French, but also German and sometimes British theory) has become lingua franca across a number of humanities disciplines and interpretive social sciences and has allowed English and comparative literature experts to converse with art historians, architects, musicologists, anthropologists, etc. In philosophy, the continental tradition remained marginal. The influence of analytical philosophy facilitated other forms of interdisciplinary exchanges with fields such as cognitive psychology, linguistics, legal theory, etc. We have many forms of interdisciplinary dialogues, which function on different kinds of shared cognitive platforms—different currencies.

Interesting, is it not, when you adopt a wider disciplinary perspective than that provided by Deresiewicz?  Suddenly it looks like philosophy might have been isolated from the rest of the arts, humanities and interpretive social sciences, and “theory” might have been the means by which scholars conversed across the disciplines of English and comparative literature, art history, architecture, musicology, anthropology, etc.  For really—and I think we’re in the realm of objective human knowledge here—there’s no plausible way to claim that when literary studies started talking about Foucault, the discipline cut itself off from history and political theory and sociology and philosophy and anthropology. 

Now, it’s always possible to claim that the rise of Theory and its spread across the disciplines is responsible for the decline in funding and prestige in certain sectors of the humanities and interpretive social sciences.  I think that claim would be contestable, but it is not implausible, since there might indeed be some correlation between “challenging common sense” and “losing funding and prestige.” But you really can’t claim that the rise Theory cordoned off literary critics and left us unable to converse with people in other disciplines.  Because that would be just silly and blinkered and also wrong.

OK, I’m off to talk about these things with a bunch of people from the arts and humanities and sciences.  I’ll check in when I can.

x-posted.

Posted by on 06/24 at 09:19 AM
  1. Have we seen/can you link to/send me [captcha = “private"] your piece on the Sokal book?  Which isn’t about the hoax!  So back off with the quicklime, lady.

    Posted by Dave Maier  on  06/24  at  12:56 PM
  2. The Deresiewicz quote is chock-full of non sequiturilistic abstrusiosities, genteel ducking and weaving between factiosities buttressed by buff begged questions. For example:

    Budgets are shrinking, students are disappearing, faculty positions are being lost, institutional prestige has all but evaporated.

    makes perfect sense if one presumes the point of view (the objectivity) of an accountant hired by the state legislature to find a way to cut state financial support for universal higher education. Well played.

    This sentence is stunning—

    Theory, which tends toward dogmatism, hermeticism, hero worship and the suppression of doctrinal deviation—not exactly the highest of mental virtues—rejects the possibility of objective knowledge and, in its commitment to the absolute nature of cultural “difference,” is dead set against the notion of human universals.

    -- because it asks us to agree that Theory is completely irrelevant outside of the Ivory Tower. However, substitute “Cheney Administration” for “Theory” and sentence reads just as true. Except that the Cheney Administration is/ was dead set in favor of a specialized notion of human universals—universals that hired state legislature accountants understand.

    captcha: leaders.  Don’t follow. Or talk to parking meters.

    Posted by  on  06/24  at  01:32 PM
  3. Nice! I hadn’t thought about it that way, but yeah, as a historian I can talk about Foucault or other theory guys/gals with other people in the humanities. It is a common currency. Super boffo!

    Whatever happened to doing the humanities because its fun? I mean, isn’t that the utility of professional sports? Its fun for spectators and participants alike?

    Posted by  on  06/24  at  01:58 PM
  4. Oh, Berube, you are the compleat academic + regular guy of my dreams.
    Enjoy Italia! I’m getting there myself later on in the year.

    Posted by Hattie  on  06/24  at  02:38 PM
  5. (1) Slacker.

    (2) Take me with you.

    But this is a very special vacation, the Seekrit Location of which can be gleaned from this old thread

    Okay, I’ve narrowed it down to either Tuscany, or Central City, home of the Spirit.  How about another clue?

    because those other writers are people like Denis Dutton, whose work has always seemed to me to be a variation on “the giraffe has a long neck, and the elephant has a long trunk, and therefore humans make abstract sculptures, just so!  Thus I have refuted Judith Butler!”

    Let me guess: another evolutionary psychology enthusiast with no actual training in evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, etc, etc., but whom the popular press eat up like sweet, sweet Pinker-flavored ice cream.  [WIKIPEDE!] Seems like it, though I could be misreading him.  And a libertarian, to boot.  (Literally, if I ever get close enough.) Though to be fair, at least Climate Debate Daily does have an extensive assemblage of both sides, albeit thereby achieving something verging on “shape of the world: opinions differ” balance.  And his Wikipedia entry contains the felicitous sentence “As of now he is taking leave, citing students’ outcry at his substandard lectures and unfitness to be teaching at the university level,” complete with footnote.  Which is actually pretty funny.

    For a long time (happily that time now seems over), lots of people in literary studies knew that if Habermas
    said it, it must be wrong.

    The Frankfurt School has just recently been invoked in another contentious Obsidian Wings comment thread as a counterexample to repeated assertions that even non-hard leftism “admires tyranny.” So I for one say “Ja!” to Jürgen.

    But since Janet has promised to bury me alive and cover me with quicklime

    Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!

    Whatever happened to doing the humanities because its fun?

    I assure you that this has afflicted other disciplines than the humanities.  Once upon a time, the thought was that sure, academic science pays less than industry, and involves way more clashing of egos amongst one’s peers, but at least there is eventual job security, and most importantly, one can work on projects that one enjoys.  Of course, in reality if one ever wishes to achieve that job security, one must in fact work on whatever brings in funding.  So now, the pay might be less than industry, but at least one must constantly scramble for grant cash, abandon long-term exploration in favor of short-term results, and basically never again personally pick up a test tube in a lab chock full of toiling staff.  Because it’s fun.

    Posted by  on  06/24  at  03:12 PM
  6. Have we seen/can you link to/send me [captcha = “private"] your piece on the Sokal book?

    Oh, you’ve already seen that old thing, Dave—indeed, you were so kind as to call attention to my doctrinal errors on this old thread.  Oh, Jeebus, now I see Janet coming with the quicklime shovel.  Honey!  Baby!  It’s all Dave Maier’s fault, I swear!

    Posted by Michael  on  06/24  at  10:54 PM
  7. A lovely belletristic essay, Dr. Bérubé!  Except for this part:

    “What is this thing called “objective knowledge”? ... Can you give me an example of it?  (And don’t give me an example of a brute fact, like “carbon is the sixth element in the periodic table.” Give me an example of something that humans know objectively, independently of their sense impressions, beliefs, etc.)”

    But that’s not what “objective knowledge” means!  That’s a Platonic form, or Hume’s “missing shade of blue”, or some sort of capitalized Quality thingy.  Rather, “objective knowledge” is facts about the universe that we have labouriously constructed through extensive analysis of our perceptions, such as “the Earth, she is sort of roundish”.

    can you give me an explanation of what this appeal to “objective knowledge” is doing in an essay that insists that criticism “will be personal, because art is personal...
    Nope, can’t help you there.

    Posted by Pyesetz the Dog  on  06/24  at  11:42 PM
  8. Sorry, I get your various doctrinally erroneous efforts all confuddled.  I only ask because I believe there is hope for you, as I too once believed as you do, but came to see the error of my ways—not crestfallen to see my project in ashes, but instead seeing an unhoped-for opportunity to “trade up,” as it were. 

    We will speak of this anon.  But now you must enjoy your well-deserved vacation, as you work harder than any three of us slothful layabouts who gather here.

    It’s all Dave Maier’s fault, I swear!

    Oh, right.  That one always works.

    Captcha: nuclear, as in quicklime is the least of your worries now, buddy boy.

    Posted by Dave Maier  on  06/25  at  01:15 AM
  9. Okay, so I finally got around to clicking the Digest of Higher Educational Statistics link. A couple of thoughts:

    ---As the numerist at Crooked Timber noted, English degrees conferred have remained somewhat stable as the overall number of degrees has grown, which could be interpreted as a decline. There has been an uptick since 2000, though.

    ---Architecture, Education, and Mathematics and Statistics show similar trend lines. I guess we’ll be seeing articles predicting their demise any day now.

    ---Check out the growth of degrees conferred under the umbrella of Liberal Arts and Sciences, general studies, and humanities. This set of statistics blows their argument out of the water, since both the Times and Deresiewicz predict the demise of the humanities, not English lit per se.

    Finally, the degrees conferred metric is not necessarily a good indicator of demand. If you slash budgets in the face of demand (didn’t the Times article say that liberal arts departments were turning students away?), the end result will be fewer degrees conferred despite increasing demand.

    Posted by  on  06/25  at  08:26 AM
  10. Check out the growth of degrees conferred under the umbrella of Liberal Arts and Sciences, general studies, and humanities.

    Isn’t that remarkable?  I wonder why it doesn’t count.  Also check the explosive growth in degrees in the visual and performing arts.  Whoda thunk it?  That Digest of Higher Education Statistics is fun stuff, it really is.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/25  at  11:07 AM
  11. Call it the Higher David Brooksism.  (A serious aside: if your plumber is wearing a Red Sox cap and talks with a thick Boston accent, and you can’t even say a few words to him about the recent history of the Red Sox, that’s not the fault of your elite education.  It’s just you.  Sociability fail.)

    For this, you win the internet for today.

    It would seem to me, a person riddled with “common sense” due to lack of any other sort of sense and being common in every way, that someone (not you) has forgotten the basic purpose of lit which happens to be written in my freshman level English textbook and which also happens to be right here and I shall quote:

    “While most good literature does not teach or preach, it does explore and reveal what it means to be human and provides us with a substantial opportunity for learning and self-understanding."--Frank Madden, Exploring Literature, pg 3

    If “reveal[ing] what it means to be human” is the point of literature, then literary criticism and Theory would be the act of explicating said literature to reveal what it means to be human as per the author according to people extensively trained and paid to think about such things.  While those of us who are stuck with the mundane tasks of life such as transcribing banal comments on faculty teaching evaluation forms which no one will read and even fewer will care are stuck relying on mere common sense, those people characterized as thinkers, such as mentioned in “Why I Write” by Didion, are not so chained and perhaps this freedom will allow for a deeper, truer revelation of humanity.  This being true, how then can it possibly be disconnected from society or academic thought or even common sense since humanity and the meaning thereof is the subject of the entire conversation? 

    There’s a logic fail and I’m afraid it is mine, not knowing imperialist Enlightenment philosophy from the non-imperialist kind.

    Also, and off topic: ever thought about teaching an internet course?  It could just be a section of the one you already teach, just have it taped and streamed to the ‘net.  I would pay the exorbitant application fee & tuition for Penn State as a transient student just to take your course, if Penn State has such a thing as transient admissions and if I had 6 SCH of 4000 level English.  No rush, plenty of time; I’m currently taking Engl 1302.

    Posted by Christina  on  06/25  at  12:44 PM
  12. Well, I would not show as someone with an English degree, with a B.A. in German and an M.A. in liberal studies.

    Posted by Hattie  on  06/25  at  03:32 PM
  13. My concern seems almost too mundane, and somehow profane.  In the last eight years we have seen the development and exponential growth of acceptable alternative reality(ies) predicated on the economic and political power of one small “group” of elites.  Indeed, members of the Rove/Cheney/Murdoch/Ailes clique have been especially honest and upfront with regard to their creation of these alternatives to factual/documentable reality.  The talking chimps of Fox, and its related radio/tv/cable/web networks, are proud to have been able to achieve this accomplishment, and to have spurred actual factual legislation and executive decisions (wars, shredding of the US Constitution, character assassinations, etc.).  The worst part is that it goes on, probably destroying practical health care reform and much needed environmental/climate initiatives.

    Thus i argue, that only with vibrant, enlightened, theory-based humanities departments, across the spectrum of the humanities, will any future social order be able to challenge, analyze, and diminish the alternative unrealities.  Nations apologize for their misdeeds (yes too many decades later) because they were held to higher standards; standards of fact and reality predicated on careful application of theory and rigorous study.  The Bush/Cheney empire is doing everything in its power to abolish any efforts to collect, review, analyze, and judge their real/factual history.  Who is going to do it?? Who is going to stand up to them and for the children of our future?? Where are the scholars???

    captcha’d by “group” for group think i suppose; thus the Humanities group has thunk its way into falling through the proverbial bottomless abyss of “talking” about stuff and not “doing” anything about it?  Just ask any faithful viewer of Rupert Murdoch’s empire of BS.

    Posted by  on  06/25  at  09:52 PM
  14. Have fun amongst the Tusques. I assume the separatism stuff has mostly died down there these days.

    Posted by  on  06/26  at  09:24 AM
  15. Well, I would not show as someone with an English degree, with a B.A. in German and an M.A. in liberal studies.

    True, Hattie, but it’s no problem.  Englisch ist keine Kultursprache…

    Thus i argue, that only with vibrant, enlightened, theory-based humanities departments, across the spectrum of the humanities, will any future social order be able to challenge, analyze, and diminish the alternative unrealities.  Nations apologize for their misdeeds (yes too many decades later) because they were held to higher standards; standards of fact and reality predicated on careful application of theory and rigorous study.  The Bush/Cheney empire is doing everything in its power to abolish any efforts to collect, review, analyze, and judge their real/factual history.  Who is going to do it?? Who is going to stand up to them and for the children of our future?? Where are the scholars???

    But it was theory that killed “real/factual” history--history studies the past, historiography studies(deconstructs?) history.  Not that I am one to agree with its doing so, as my own response to this post shows I guess.  I do, however, have to agree with Christina above-- though I suspect with different reasons--about the Englightenment.  We (the academic community, esp. humanities) have taken disciplines like history to task for getting caught up in the optimism of the Enlightenment and trying to make itself a science.  Funny that we often do so by noting the hangover to that optimism (i.e. nuclear weapons).  And now we object that relativism in politics has gotten out of hand, has applied some of our “New History.” Where is our accountability?

    On that note, remember this one.

    Posted by Derek T.  on  06/26  at  10:07 AM
  16. I assume the separatism stuff has mostly died down there these days.

    Last I heard, there was still something of a pushback going on against the Sforzas.  But it’s been a few years since I was really paying attention.

    And now we object that relativism in politics has gotten out of hand, has applied some of our “New History.”

    Um, I think most people are objecting to the deliberate construction of lies by a cabal of ruthless power-seekers; I strongly suspect that few of those power-seekers are actually applying their schooling in Theory.  And the latest occurrence of the politically powerful distorting the official historical record for their own benefit is an indictment of the view that historians can’t approach their discipline as an objective science?  If only the kings of Egypt hadn’t heard about “New History.”

    Posted by  on  06/26  at  11:28 AM
  17. And we Americans are kein Kulturvolk. Exhibit A: the Michael Jackson annoyance.
    Only kidding. Sort of.
    Hey, I’m not German, I only speak teh language.

    Posted by Hattie  on  06/26  at  05:39 PM
  18. And now we object that relativism in politics has gotten out of hand, has applied some of our “New History.” Where is our accountability?
    I strongly suspect that few of those power-seekers are actually applying their schooling in Theory.

    Given “their” recent personal and political histories, me thinks these cabalists were not altogether very good students in the first place.  As long as we continue to have humanities disciplines, my grandchildren may be able to differentiate between relativism and Orwellian propaganda.

    Posted by  on  06/26  at  08:38 PM
  19. Sorry to burst that bubble, Spyder, but the K-12 system is horribly, horribly broken.  Kids in k-12 are taught to memorize and regurgitate information for standardized tests.  They are not taught logic.  I had a prof come to me this past week, venting that the students in his class can’t write a complete sentence, can’t make logical connections and show exactly no intellectual curiosity.  Not very good traits in sophomore/junior level engineering students. The only reasons my daughter has any logical skills are because I’ve taught her and internet conversations demand it.  Otherwise, she wouldn’t know how either. So, unless your grandchildren like to have conversations on the net rather than stick to Facebook, and unless you take the time to teach them, they won’t know either, making them the perfect sheep to receive Orwellian propaganda without any intellectual examination.

    Posted by ChristinaM33  on  06/27  at  10:01 AM
  20. I had a prof come to me this past week, venting that the students in his class can’t write a complete sentence, can’t make logical connections and show exactly no intellectual curiosity and simply would *not* get off his lawn.

    Posted by  on  06/27  at  11:20 AM
  21. LOL Had it been almost any other prof, I would agree but this one?  No.  He was really, really upset and worried about how he was going to teach them what he needs to teach them without these skills.

    So, he’s going back to basics and along with teaching them electronics, he’s going to add logic and technical writing.  As he told them, not being able to be precise and logical in language, in *this* field, can cause people to die.

    Posted by ChristinaM33  on  06/27  at  02:29 PM
  22. Well, ChristinaM33, I challenge you to find a time when professors (or teachers in general for that matter) said something different. Dig up some quotes from a period in our history when the professors—or teachers—raved about their incoming students’ critical thinking skills and general level of academic preparedness.

    Posted by  on  06/27  at  06:04 PM
  23. No bubble bursting surprises for me.  I started off teaching in American Indian/Native American studies (ethnohistory and religions in the early 70s) then moved over to Education (18 years ago) for that very reason.  Clinton made sure to take many more steps downhill with the original Goals 2000 crap, and W dropped the nuclear option ESEA 2/NCLB to make sure our nation’s students stayed near the bottom.  Coupled with massive defunding of mandates and the roller-coaster cycling of state and local revenue, things have proceeded to get even worse.  Any further erosion, precipitated by loss of programs and departments in higher education, will simply perpetuate the decline through failure to fully and holistically educate the future k-12 teachers For the record, i sent all five of my own children through Waldorf schooling, then onto colleges and universities. 

    Since we missed an ABF day, and given the media frenzy around the demise of popstars, i offer this little trip on memory lane for another musician who died this week.  Turning Away

    Posted by  on  06/27  at  08:20 PM
  24. While we’re noting musical passings, I don’t remember seeing much about Hugh Hopper’s, a few weeks back.  Although come to think of it even when we lose Robert Wyatt I don’t expect to see much then either.  Hmph.

    Captcha: “yes” (ok, not Soft Machine, but altogether respectable all things considered)

    Posted by Dave Maier  on  06/27  at  09:47 PM
  25. Gosh, I didn’t have a hard time talking to the plumber or any of his employees or the electrician or *his* employee, at all.  But then I sorta like Habermas, so consider the source.

    Posted by bitchphd  on  06/29  at  06:22 PM
  26. I have looked at a bunch of stuff and with a bio or biochem degree you could do something like be an environmental adviser to politicians.Research microbiologists could work with anthropologists to find how diseases affected older civilizations.

    Posted by square one condos  on  07/25  at  10:09 AM
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