OK, so here’s my very-belated response to that New York Times essay, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” I tell people that if they didn’t see that article this time around, don’t worry—it’ll come back. In fact, I think I remember the exact same essay being published ten years ago, quoting the exact same people, only then the headline was, “In Flush Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Because then we were in the middle of a robustly globalizing economy and a vertiginous dot com boom—who in their right mind would choose to get a liberal arts education in times like those? And now that the people in the advanced financial sector of that globalizing economy have plunged us all into crisis, somehow the humanities have to justify their worth. Well, I can tell you what’s going to happen ten years from now. The U.S. will be at 100 percent employment, and we’ll have national health care; the Israel-Palestine conflict will be over and done with, and the facilities will almost be ready for the 2020 Olympics in Jerusalem; and we’ll have these great cars—not cars that run on water, mind you, but cars that run on toxic waste and produce fresh water, so that the more you drive, the more you wind up helping to combat cholera in developing nations. It’ll be a great time, I promise. And people will still be wondering: why bother with the humanities?
There are two weird things about this article, however. One is this:
Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term “humanities”—which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion. Many in the field worry that in this current crisis those areas will be hit hardest.
Followed by this:
The humanities’ share of college degrees is less than half of what it was during the heyday in the mid- to late ’60s, according to the Humanities Indicators Prototype, a new database recently released by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Currently they account for about 8 percent (about 110,000 students), a figure that has remained pretty stable for more than a decade. The low point for humanities degrees occurred during the bitter recession of the early 1980s.
As I have argued many times, with a steadily increasing sense of exasperation, if you start from that “heyday,” then of course you’re going to wind up with a narrative of decline and fall. Because that heyday was a brief statistical blip, an anomaly in the history of the republic. And then between 1970 and 1980, enrollments in the humanities bottomed out very quickly, for reasons we don’t quite understand; all we know is that enrollments in the social sciences and physical sciences dropped precipitously as well. But if you start from 1980, we look perfectly all right, and . . . hey, wait a minute, what’s this about a figure that has remained pretty stable for more than a decade? You mean, even through the economic downturn of 2001-02?
And then there’s this:
The humanities continue to thrive in elite liberal arts schools. But the divide between these private schools and others is widening. Some large state universities routinely turn away students who want to sign up for courses in the humanities, Francis C. Oakley, president emeritus and a professor of the history of ideas at Williams College, reported. At the University of Washington, for example, in recent years, as many as one-quarter of the students found they were unable to get into a humanities course.
OK, so the humanities are thriving at some places, but at others, we have to turn students away. I thought everybody hated us because we’re irrelevant and ugly and our mothers dress us funny and we have to justify our worth? Hmm. Perhaps we’re getting our budgets cut and our faculty lines frozen and our confidence (never high to begin with) rattled despite the facts that enrollments have held steady nationally and we have to turn students away from courses they want to take?
And I love the humanities continue to thrive in elite liberal arts schools. By Moloch’s wounds, February 24, 2009 must have been the slowest news day since the last retreat of the great ice sheets, a day on which we couldn’t even find any dogs biting men. Might it not be the case that there’s a self-selection process going on here, whereby people go to elite liberal arts schools precisely because they want the kind of broad, general, hard-to-justify-in-quantitative-terms education you get at such places? Where the classes are small and you can take more than one course with the same professor over four years, developing actual intellectual relationships with members of the faculty? I’m trying to picture a scenario in which it’s news that science education is in crisis ... but the sciences continue to thrive at Caltech and MIT.
More on this theme next week. For tonight, it’s in tough times, Crosby and Malkin must justify their worth.
tonight, it’s in tough times, Crosby and Malkin must justify their worth.
Believe it, baby.
Can’t humanities departments survive on service courses for the gen-ed requirements of Busyness majors?Posted by on 06/12 at 01:35 PM
My son will be attending one of those “elite liberal arts schools” in the fall, where he plans to study engineering(?!)--exactly the sort of practical subject that supposedly attracts humanities students in tough times, blah blah. Here’s the rub: he could have gone lots of places to study engineering. He was attracted to “elite liberal arts school” precisely because of its humanities courses, where he could study not only engineering but also latin and chinese. It was sitting in on the course on Catullus that sold him on the school. Will he be a better engineer for knowing Catullus? I would guess yes but I have to admit I don’t know for sure. I do know that he’ll be a better person.Posted by on 06/12 at 01:39 PM
Mr Vonnegut called this foma, harmless half-truths that give comfort. At Caltech or MIT one might say bullshit although horseshit is probably more descriptive.Posted by on 06/12 at 01:40 PM
Will he be a better engineer for knowing Catullus? I would guess yes but I have to admit I don’t know for sure.
Definitely yes. As long as he learns both differential and integral Catullus.
More seriously, your guess is probably right. In my TA glory days, I despaired of the extremely narrow worldview of engineering students, who wanted to know why they had to learn so much about physics. (Or as one of my physics profs put it, in engineering they figure they just need to know F = 0.) Lord knows we don’t want our bridges or aircraft designed by people with critical-thinking skills.
My undergraduate liberal arts institution wasn’t an “elite” one (despite the T-shirts about being the Harvard of the Midwest), but as a computistic scientician I am routinely thankful that I attended it.Posted by on 06/12 at 02:20 PM
Some large state universities routinely turn away students who want to sign up for courses in the humanities
Nobody takes humanities classes anymore. They’re too crowded.Posted by on 06/12 at 03:17 PM
Go Pens! I don’t think I can take another disappointment after all the late clutch free throw misses of the Magic last night. Foul shots are like kryptonite to Superman and Turkoglu. And so the Fakers win another championship.
The humanities are only necessary if we want to become decent human beings, to develop a sense of irony which will temper our self-righteousness and enlarge our empathy for those whom fortune has not smiled upon. Other than that, it’s not worth much. Just a lot of fucking poetry. Tough economic times teach us that college is really about learning skills which will help us make money, pontificate about how that earned money is based completely upon merit, and that without the effort of such elites the whole political and economic system might collapse. Without such knowledge and expertise, who would bail us out of our current predicament?Posted by on 06/12 at 04:32 PM
My husband managed to get all the way through to his doctorate without ever reading any worthwhile literature at all, without any sense of history, with no knowledge whatsoever of the the social, psychological and anthropological disciplines. I had to edit all his papers for the longest time, because he wrote purest scientese. I can’t imagine what kind of monster he would be if had not married me, a piece of good fortune on his part which has made him the well rounded person he is today.Posted by Hattie on 06/12 at 05:13 PM
That all seems so sensible, Michael.
mds, get out! I went to the Harvard of the Midwest too! I think H.o.t.M. has about 25 campuses.
My husband’s a software tester (and a damn good one at that). He majored in history at a small private liberal arts H.o.t.M. and later taught himself software testing, what with all the critical thinking skills that were inculcated into him.
This is the Husbands’ Education Roundup thread, isn’t it?Posted by Orange on 06/12 at 06:43 PM
Big night for hockey. Big night.
Good luck to everybody. Remember, you’re all winners! Mostly. Go Leafs!Posted by on 06/12 at 06:44 PM
mds, get out! I went to the Harvard of the Midwest too! I think H.o.t.M. has about 25 campuses.
Well, in my era, there was quite the fad at NMSU--Excuse me, Truman State--for making comical references to our Harvardy status. T-shirts, signs… My favorite was “Harvard: the NMSU of the Northeast.” Being such a rustic Midwesterner, I didn’t realize how common this joke was until I was no longer in the Midwest*. I have long since decided that for undergraduate education, I’d probably still take my Harvard over the real one. If nothing else, look at how sloppily Matthew Yglesias writes.
Anyway, here’s to a great game tonight. And a final decision on whose beard goes away.
*Well, Rochester still tends to call it “pop.” But you know what I mean.Posted by on 06/12 at 07:04 PM
About those Leafs: at what point can we begin talking about The Frank Mahovlich Curse? Because ever since Imlach and the Toronto fans ran that man out of town, they seem to have gone to . . . let me see now . . . ah, yes, exactly zero Cup finals.Posted by on 06/12 at 07:05 PM
The way I read your post, Michael, the humanities hit a high point in the 1960s, you’ve got a quote to that effect. Rather than dismissing that as an anomalie, I think you should take a look at it.
Now, I’ve not thought this through, but what I see is that this high-point is the result of an influx of Federal money into higher education that was prompted by fear of the Russkies. When they launched Sputnik into orbit in Oct. of 1957 that put the Deep Fear into us that the Commies were Smarter and Gonna’ Whip Our Free Capitalist Ass Science-wise and Technology-wise. So the Feds put a lot of money into higher ed, some drirectly to students, and some to the institutions.
And what did those students and institutions do? Many things, including expand humanities programs. Why? Maybe because people actually enjoyed that stuff, because it gave them pleasure? You think maybe that’s what was going on?
If so, it seems to me that’s deeply important, both on general considerations of human nature and on more specific nationalistic considerations. Remember those words in the Declaration of Independence about the pursuit of happiness? Well, maybe those humanities majors decided – ZOMG!^2 – to pursue happiness, to study something that interested them, that gave them pleasure. I mean, can you be more Islamo-Facistic-Communistikal than that? I think not.
And, be scared, be very scared, because the study of happiness has become a HOT HOT NOT topic in the social sciences. And, so far, the secret to happiness does not seem to lie in MONEY MONEY MONEY nor in FIGHITING TERRORISTS hiding under your bed at night.Posted by on 06/12 at 07:09 PM
I remember whenever I had a talk with some Dean at job interviews I’d ask them if their university takes humanities seriously, ‘cause they are important to me. Always threw them off completely - they wanted to talk about their investment in life sciences or engineering…
Although of course in a free market the fact that humanities budgets are cut (to be fair, so are ours) proves that they are unpopular!Posted by on 06/12 at 07:13 PM
In Flush Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Because then we were in the middle of a robustly globalizing economy and a vertiginous dot com boom—who in their right mind would choose to get a liberal arts education in times like those? And now that the people in the advanced financial sector of that globalizing economy have plunged us all into crisis, somehow the humanities have to justify their worth.Posted by SEO Experts on 06/12 at 07:22 PM
Well you’re the experts, SEO!Posted by on 06/12 at 08:11 PM
Captcha: looking, as in looking for an exciting game where no one is permanently injured, only a slight home-ice advantage, with liberty and humanities for all.Posted by on 06/12 at 08:12 PM
the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.”
Could someone tell me when i missed the funeral for the ARTS??? It seems implied that--if all those silly classes about philosophy, religion, history, language, literature and so forth must now step up to the “bench of justice--the ARTS must have already been officially given a Time of Death.
Given the captcha is “freedom” as in all of gods’ children gotta have their freedom, we need free universities and colleges.Posted by on 06/12 at 08:55 PM
Forgot the NBC delay means it does not really work to listen to Mike Lang on the radio. First period OK, 2nd period GREAT!! (so far)Posted by on 06/12 at 09:08 PM
End of 2nd. ... whew.Posted by on 06/12 at 09:44 PM
Getting ready to etch that sucker.... tick tick tickPosted by on 06/12 at 10:20 PM
Oh my.Posted by Dave Maier on 06/12 at 10:23 PM
Too much tension.Posted by on 06/12 at 10:28 PM
Holy crap.Posted by on 06/12 at 10:37 PM
Whoo hoo! Penguins win! Vindication!
captcha: “placed” which is what Detroit did.Posted by on 06/12 at 10:38 PM
Congratulations, Penguins and Pens fans.Posted by Nell on 06/12 at 10:44 PM
Crosby and Malkin set the “standard” (captcha) for worth, may the humanities excel.Posted by on 06/12 at 10:50 PM
Sweet Moses ben Maimon in a leisure suit. Apparently, this is considered something of an “upset” in the hockeying world. Congratulations to Pittsburgh for ending their long dry spell. Nova Scotia is going crazy tonight.
Oh, and a bet’s a bet, Professor. Even if you never accepted, acknowledged, or noticed it. Never let it be said that mds is a welsher*.** Do you want me to send the beard trimmings to your home, or your office?
*Well, not any more.
**Apologies to the Welsh for what was originally an ethnic slur. Some of my best friends are Welsh-American, and the mdslet is a proud inheritor of your ways.Posted by on 06/12 at 10:55 PM
Exhausted. Another incredible final 10 seconds, nothing easy.Posted by on 06/12 at 10:57 PM
Holy Crap! Oh, the humanities! That was everything you could want in a hockey game plus a little extra something special for the ride home.
Penguins played good D. Really good D. In the end, it all came down to heart, and IV fluids. That stop by Fleury was epic.
Congratulations to the team and the fans.
The ‘Curse of the Mahovlichino’ strikes again! Or maybe for the first time!Posted by on 06/12 at 11:07 PM
just back from the bar and YES!!!
Talbot + Fleury!1!
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS, people.Posted by on 06/12 at 11:15 PM
For tonight, it’s in tough times, Crosby and Malkin must justify their worth.
I had no idea Bing and Michelle had hooked up.Posted by on 06/12 at 11:34 PM
Your powers of prediction are impressive. Disturbing even.Posted by Pinko Punko on 06/12 at 11:38 PM
Marian Hossa goes to -2 in the big plus-minus.
</tacky>Posted by on 06/12 at 11:44 PM
I have only just now recovered from that shot off the crossbar w/ 2:08 left. As others have pointed out: holy crap.
“ask” and ye shall receive.Posted by Dave Maier on 06/12 at 11:49 PM
I got out of work tonight just in time to hear the end of the game on the radio in my car. With just over 3 minutes to go, it was the Pens leading 2-1, which blew my humanities-warped mind because the feeling I’d gotten from the hockey heads here was that it was going to be Detroit all the way, and actually playing the game was simply a formality.
Anyway, for that last 3 minutes, I was certainly feeling the tension, even through the radio all the way out in CA. Congrats to the Pens and Pens fans! And Nell, better luck next time.
Now I need to turn on Sports Center so their expert analysts can breakdown the game for me since I missed all but the very end.Posted by on 06/13 at 12:51 AM
Clarification: In the above I should have said “some” of the hockey heads, because it wasn’t all y’all.Posted by on 06/13 at 02:01 AM
Your powers of prediction are impressive. Disturbing even.
Indeed. I recall that when I first wrote, “in tough times, Max Talbot must justify his worth,” people mocked me. Well, they’re not mocking now! Especially since I followed that with “watch out for Ericsson, too—and you never know, Kronwall might hit the crossbar with two minutes left.”
Speaking of which: I could see that the Red Wings faithful, being a knowledgeable bunch, understood that Kronwall’s shot sealed the loss. Nothing says “we are about to lose painfully” like hitting the crossbar. See Scuderi, Rob (2009), game 6 Pens-Caps, overtime. Except that Scuderi’s shot hit the outside of the outside of the crossbar, and Kronwall’s hit the inside. Not the inside of the inside, though, because it didn’t ricochet straight down and lie tantalizingly on the goal line. For a shot that hit the middle of the crossbar and heralded a painful loss, see Leetch, Brian (1994), game 1 Rangers-Canucks, overtime.
Bill @ 12: Thanks! But I wasn’t dismissing the heyday of the humanities by saying the 60s were an anomaly. I was merely saying you shouldn’t take an anomaly as your statistical basis for comparison. The idea that people flocked to the humanities in pursuit of happiness—or, if you like, the satisfactions and challenges of the examined life—is very attractive to me, for obvious reasons.Posted by Michael on 06/13 at 09:47 AM
Also: a heavy sigh for Hossa, whose decision to jump to the Wings was, at the time, perfectly understandable (however devastating the vote of no confidence was to the Pens franchise and fans). And a shout out to Fleury, whose young and adrenaline-fueled legs managed to propel him side to side just right in the final seconds. Surely Lidstrom thought he had the game on his stick.
As for the parallels to 1971, when the Canadiens beat Chicago on the road in game 7 after each team had won every game on home ice (the only other time in NHL history when a team won a road game 7 after being down 0-2): you realize this makes Max Talbot the Henri Richard of the Penguins.Posted by Michael on 06/13 at 10:01 AM
As for the parallels to 1971, when the Canadiens beat Chicago on the road
Is it really necessary to bring up Chicago losses all the time? Now I wasn’t even born in ‘71, but that only strengthens my point.
Anyway, congrats to the Pens and their fans!Posted by on 06/13 at 12:03 PM
Is it really necessary to bring up Chicago losses all the time?
Yes, christian. Yes I’m afraid it is.
I was wondering if a more solid plan for the Pens would have been to actually guard the opposition after a face-off with 6 seconds left rather than relying on Fleury doing his diving seal imitation, and it reminded me of a very similar sequence (if different result) in game 1 of the 1992 Finals when Mario Lemieux completed a Pen comeback from a 4-1 deficit with this goal off a face-off with 13 seconds left. (Some difference, it was only game one (but it was essentially the series winner as the Blackhawks never recovered), plus the faceoff was at the start of a Pen’s power play that immediately followed a penalty kill. This longer video also includes the action leading up to the face-off.) Maybe Belfour’s mistake was leading with his arms (or maybe it was having Lemieux be the guy with the puck on his stick).Posted by on 06/13 at 12:26 PM
Nice moment: Mario with the Cup being given a standing o by remaining Wings fans and the Pens contingent.
a heavy sigh for Hossa, whose decision to jump to the Wings was, at the time, perfectly understandable (however devastating the vote of no confidence was to the Pens franchise and fans).
Only bitter smirks in this household. Hossa sat on his hands for a GM we’re close to, made it clear he wouldn’t re-sign, and then showcased himself on a nationally televised game in Detroit with a hat trick. So he got dealt to Pittsburgh, a situation that was all he could have asked for. But no, he wanted what he thought was a surer shot. (Admittedly, he might have been inspired to look further afield by the the psychodynamics of the Pittsburgh organization, which seem less adult than the climate in Detroit and other Cup-plausible franchises. Crosby lives with the Lemieuxs? Eeeeuw.)
young and adrenaline-fueled legs managed to propel him side to side just right in the final seconds. Surely Lidstrom thought he had the game on his stick.
And Lidstrom wasn’t the only one, despite the inner resignation created by the death knell crossbar shot. (Evocative for me of then-Shark Johan Garpenlov’s identical shot deep in the overtime period against Toronto in 1994.)
captcha: bad - It’s hard to feel too bad when the Wings have won so many and the Pens are so ecstatic. But I’m glad I’m not Brad Stuart today.Posted by Nell on 06/13 at 12:49 PM
you realize this makes Max Talbot the Henri Richard of the Penguins.
Yes, and we await the photo of you with Maxime…Posted by Nell on 06/13 at 12:52 PM
Oh, to be Brad Stuart. That’s gotta hurt.
But I was just saying the other day that although the Wings are crazy deep up front, such that guys like Adkelkader and Helm can kill you, the Pens’ three wins in the first six games revealed the shocking-but-true fact that aside from Lidstrom, the Wings’ defense is merely ordinary. And, being ordinary, they make costly mistakes every now and then.
And OK, I can make that a heavy sarcastic sigh for Hossa.
Oh, and btw? Apparently we have another world-class troll in the dungeon. Comment 69 in the previous thread—I think it could be the return of the legendary Floyd Alvis Cooper.Posted by Michael on 06/13 at 12:58 PM
that aside from Lidstrom, the Wings’ defense is merely ordinary
I’ll vouch for the fact that MB voiced this sentiment mid-game 6. Speaking of which, rightly or wrongly I am finding the victory in 7 marginally adding to my personal “It was totally worth it” assessment of that outing. (Remember when I said ask me in 5 years? That’s because that is how long I intend to milk that sucker. 2012: “This election is shaping up just like game 6 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals, during which I personally witnessed ... .")Posted by on 06/13 at 01:36 PM
Oh, and btw? Apparently we have another world-class troll in the dungeon. Comment 69 in the previous thread—I think it could be the return of the legendary Floyd Alvis Cooper.
One thing’s for sure: Neil Craig thinks MB’s metal arms don’t hang uselessly by his side! He uses them to cut up thousands of people while alive. Oh, wait, that’s MB’s *friends* and *their* metal arms. Sorry. Never mind.Posted by John Protevi on 06/13 at 01:53 PM
I’d say rightly, JP, because I’m feeling that way too. Anytime you get to see a team during a Cup-winning year (for me, Colorado 2001, New Jersey 2003, Tampa Bay 2004, Carolina 2006, and now Pens 2009), it makes the experience more meaningful retroactively, even if you merely saw them in the regular season; when you see a team play three days before they win the Cup, in the first of two thrilling (and eerily similar) 2-1 wins, the experience is all the more ZOMG retroactively.Posted by on 06/13 at 02:03 PM
Creeping geezerhood makes 15-year-old memories non-trustworthy, so now I’m questioning my account of the Garpenlov crossbar shot (game 6? between Sharks and Leafs in the second round of the 1994 playoffs, after San Jose’s shocking elimination of Detroit). Consulting the fan with whom I watched that game, rather than looking it up, raises the possibility that the shot came near the end of regulation when the game was tied, and the failure to score sent it into an overtime in which the Leafs ended the Sharks’ fairytale playoff run.
Either way, it was the moment that taught me the hockey truth Michael states:
Nothing says “we are about to lose painfully” like hitting the crossbar.Posted by Nell on 06/13 at 02:07 PM
In tough times, the humans must justify their worth.Posted by on 06/13 at 02:07 PM
Michael re: 69 LT,
I’m shocked to learn that you are in favor of....
surgeryPosted by on 06/13 at 02:11 PM
Lending support to Michael’s thesis about the Detroit defense is their uncharacteristically unimpressive penalty kill this season.
But they have been coming down from a great height. When Konstantinov and Lidstrom played together in 1996-7, whoa. Just whoa.
Pittsburgh defense won the series. In a just world, Rob Scuderi would at least share the Conn Smythe with Malkin.Posted by Nell on 06/13 at 02:15 PM
Speaking of the Conn Smythe (which is one of the NHL’s better pieces of silver from the POV of design distinctiveness): I’m pleased for several reasons to see that Malkin didn’t follow Zetterburg’s unsettling 2008 example of skating around energetically with it overhead like everyone does with the Cup.
The maple leaf that rises up behind the MLGarden body of the trophy was designed only to an admire-on-shelf standard of sturdiness, and flapped back and forth alarmingly during Z’s celebration.Posted by Nell on 06/13 at 02:25 PM
Ah, I forgot to settle this important point:
Is it really necessary to bring up Chicago losses all the time? Now I wasn’t even born in ‘71, but that only strengthens my point.
JP is right, Christian, it is vitally necessary. Thanks for the clips of that historic 1992 game! And now it’s time to rub it in: the Hawks were in fact up 2-0 in the second period until Lemaire took a routine for-the-hell-of-it slapshot near the red line. 90 feet out, folks. The brilliant Tony Esposito, then one of the few butterfly goaltenders in the world (we used to call them “floppers,” because of the onions in their belts), did his butterfly thing, and Lemaire’s shot sailed over his shoulder and in. Utterly and completely and world-historically devastating.
Then in the third, Richard hoisted the entire team on his back and scored two—both on 1-on-2s, iirc. On the game-winning goal, I believe he snaked around the Hawks’ top-line D, Bill White and Keith Magnuson. A thing of beauty, a joy forever, etc.
Pittsburgh defense won the series. In a just world, Rob Scuderi would at least share the Conn Smythe with Malkin.
Well, the Conn Smythe is for the entire playoffs, and I said “Malkin” just before Gary Bettman did. But Scuderi was huge, especially in goal, and the rather ordinary Pens defense tightened up wonderfully and played extra ordinary for two months.
Which reminds me: the sight of Bettman makes me break out in boils, and the sound of his voice makes my ears melt and run down the sides of my head. Otherwise, the Cup ceremony is great to watch.Posted by Michael on 06/13 at 02:33 PM
Yeah well, fine then JP, when did a Cleveland team last win a championship again? And for Michael, I can send you video of that USC-Penn State laugher in this year’s Rose Bowl.Posted by on 06/13 at 02:49 PM
the sight of Bettman makes me break out in boils, and the sound of his voice makes my ears melt and run down the sides of my head.
Yeah. Pretty much the way anchovies mar pizza for some people.
I used to feel the same way, but have been softened up by sheer habituation and by a hilarious and humanizing interview/day-with that Ron McLean did years ago. (One of many fine moments: Bettman introduces McLean and his driver, then says to the driver as they get in the limo: “He’s a big deal in Canadian TV.” McLean looks out the car window into the camera with one of those deadpan gazes so familiar from Coach’s Corner...)
Oh, how I miss having CBC on the teevee.Posted by Nell on 06/13 at 03:11 PM
If nothing else, look at how sloppily Matthew Yglesias writes.
Since I’m still feeling full of myself (and because while it’s a beautiful day here, I am fighting the mother of all head colds) I’m moved to address the sentiment that Matt Yglesias and his writing/spelling reflects poorly on Harvard in any substantive way. it is a subject which I’ve ignored here and at Unfogged several times in the recent past. But no more! Because, frankly, it bugs the shit out of me. Several caveats:
1) Although my language may be harsh it is certainly not directed personally at mds or anyone else.
2) There is a self-serving aspect to what I say, since I share and struggle with many of the errors one sees in Matt’s writing.
3) I do think that given his position, it would behoove Matt to run his stuff past an editor/friend/colleague/someone else. If I were to fault him (and Harvard) on anything it would be this lack of judgment. I do not mean to excuse poor spelling, grammar or writing in general, but rather to attack the argument that Harvard may be the suxxor because MY’s spelling is the suxxor. Harvard may be the suxxor for many, many reasons clearly manifest in the world (and no surprise that the crises in a society would be mirrored in its flagship institution of higher learning), but this is a freaking misplaced nit.
Actually after that long intro, most of the vehemence has been drained out of me. My main point is that most assuredly MY understands the difference between there/their, it/it’s and probably the vast majority of the homophone and other errors he makes. In their response people tend to intellectually dishonestly pretend otherwise (like when folks sneeringly use “illiterate” in the broader rather than the narrower sense, knowing full well the connotative nastiness it brings). It is a performance issue and one I strongly suspect, based on my experience, that is the result of a minor cognitive processing deficit. (I am hesitant to claim “disability” for many reasons, but I’m sure such a claim could be legitimately made.) For some reason the fact that this particular deficit did not get corrected at Harvard strikes people as a significant knock on that institution. This in contrast to so very many other behaviors one sees associated with that deeply troubled institution. I think MY does Harvard proud. Would that so many of the jurists, doctors and financiers who came through the place did as well.
*Not to go on too much longer, but after much frustrating self-examination, I find that my processing of words as I am writing or editing (or even potentially editing, as of a comment in preview) is dramatically different than when I am simply reading. I almost always catch my own howlers immediately after they are irretrievable. (Although sometimes before. For instance “feeling” in my first sentence read as “filling” (for God’s sake) through several previews, which gives a clue to some of my problem (and I suspect other homophone misusers), which is that I sound things out rather than “read” the text. Anyway, no writer can expect to get judged by other than what appears on the page, but folks might want to examine their assumptions about what it is that is causing the deficiencies in the text.Posted by on 06/13 at 05:09 PM
How could the Penguins fail, since they had both Moloch and Satan on their side?
Seriously though, from this Red Wings fan’s POV, Pittsburgh played their collective ass off and won because they deserved to. So it was fun to watch, even if I wasn’t real happy with the result.Posted by on 06/13 at 05:20 PM
"In these times tough times, Satan must justify his worth.”
Duh. Why didn’t I see that before?Posted by on 06/13 at 05:21 PM
Re Harvard, it’s the Microsoft of universities. It buys innovation that happened elsewhere and hopes to flood the market with what it’s bought. Back in the days when I was a grad student in English at SUNY Buffalo we thought of the Harvard English department as a bunch of high class provincials. Has that changed one jot since the 1970s?Posted by on 06/13 at 05:48 PM
“In these times tough times, Satan must justify his worth.”
Exactlioto Quasimoto. (Apologies to J Prine.)
Captcha: her. Satan must justify her worth—a horse of a different color.Posted by on 06/13 at 06:03 PM
Comment 69 in the previous thread—I think it could be the return of the legendary Floyd Alvis Cooper.
Professor, I commented with Floyd Alvis Cooper; I read Floyd Alvis Cooper; Floyd Alvis Cooper was a troll of mine; Professor, that’s no Floyd Alvis Cooper.
Seriously, one of the old “Michael Bérubé and his Bosnian collaborators have Milošević’s innocent blood on their hands” crew? None of them would be worthy to suck FAC’s shoelaces. And they’re nowhere near the entertainment value of Venus_Mongomery, either.Posted by on 06/13 at 06:05 PM
Although my language may be harsh it is certainly not directed personally at mds or anyone else.
Hmm, in my tepid non-specific defense, I don’t actually think the inimitable Yglesias blogpost style is any indictment of a Harvard, or indeed a Truman State, education. I but invoke it as an Internet joke, sort of like mentioning taping bacon to a cat.
I will confess to a bit of rustic Midwestern reverse snobbery, in that I feel that my liberal arts education was not significantly worse than it would have been at Harvard, and for at least one order of magnitude lower expense. But, after all, it was Harvard we were comparing ourselves to. Even though it’s Yale that totally rules.Posted by on 06/13 at 06:58 PM
I but invoke it as an Internet joke,
Yes, your rather tepid mention merely served to remind me of my more visceral response to some of the earlier stuff to which I did not respond at the time. Sort of like a very minor brush with poison ivy inflaming the system of a previously sensitized individual.Posted by on 06/13 at 07:22 PM
Not like you to miss the point, old bean, or here the subtext.
Academic humanities lost its relevance about a generation back, when y’all decided en masse to stop talking about things humans might do, like reading, writing and thinking about stuff, and instead warped off into de/post/anti/bi/curious/structuralism. You deliberately, knowingly, gleefully, took the humanities and sawed them off from, well, the rest of humanity. We don’t know what it is you do all day, while you take great pride in declaring how, whatever it is, it can’t be explained to regular humans.
Practical job skills is a complete diversion. It’s your connection, or lack of same, to regular humanity that determines your relevance—and that hasn’t been lookin’ too good for a while now.
In short, you sailed away, and if you ever returned it has not been noticed.Posted by on 06/13 at 08:37 PM
In re 63: It really *is* always 1987!
Captcha: “effect” as in “it’s a bloody time-warp ...”Posted by John Protevi on 06/13 at 10:27 PM
Landru, I completely agree that when the humanities signed onto the “I Am Curious (Structuralist)” agenda, we lost our connection to regular humanity. Also, we ordered orange juice and bowled a 37, thus cutting ourselves off from regular people. Guilty as charged. But would you be so kind as to return to this comment section to explain just how (a) the study of disability in culture and society (or the study of sex and gender and race and nationality) deliberately, knowingly, gleefully, took the humanities and sawed them off from the rest of humanity, and (b) how I, personally (since you lob this charge on this blog) have taken great pride in declaring how, whatever it is [we do all day], it can’t be explained to regular humans? Because up until now, I honestly thought I’d been trying to explain what humanists do—here on this very blog, and elsewhere in public fora such as newspapers and magazines—to regular humanity. I’d like to know precisely where I’ve failed, and how I can do better in the future. Thanks!Posted by Michael on 06/14 at 12:04 AM
It’s really quite something. Despite Michael’s best attempts to gleefully tell us all to fuck off and let him deconstructionize stuff, we still come back. It’s battered commenter syndrome, is what it is.Posted by on 06/14 at 12:28 AM
63: I routinely assign, for example, Barthes’ hoary old Mythologies, which is about as “de/post/anti/bi/curious/structuralist” as you can get, and comes from the great sawing off era to which you refer,yet it’s still pretty much talking about things humans do. My students grok it totally, they do. And they they end up thinking about other stuff humans do and writing cool stuff about it that I get to read and some of them even go off to Ph.D. programs and get jobs or stay right here in Ohio and teach cool stuff to their high school and community college students and some become writers with short stories in The Atlantic, and some even just go into their parents’ businesses or farms. The ones I keep in touch with read books and raise children and support the arts and volunteer in their communities. So I wonder what alternate reality humanities you’re thinking about?Posted by on 06/14 at 08:28 AM
I believe that the critical word in 63 is “regular,” used as a modifier for “humans” and “humanity.” That refers to the FAC Powell Model Human which, as we all know, is four feet high and has metal arms that hang to the ground. As the specifications for these regular humans have never been released into the public domain it is difficult to provide instructional materials and reference manuals for them.Posted by on 06/14 at 09:21 AM
Well I have to say that a discipline that produces writers for the Atlantic should question its very foundations. I shudder to think that further degeneration would get former students to write for the New Republic.Posted by on 06/14 at 10:52 AM
I completely agree that when the humanities signed onto the “I Am Curious (Structuralist)” agenda, we lost our connection to regular humanity.
Hmm, in my tepid non-specific defense, I never had a connection to humanity, regular or otherwise, even prior to my liberal arts requirements.Posted by on 06/14 at 11:46 AM
Bill, that’s not the FAC Powell Model Human, it’s the V_M Powell Model Human. Credit where credit is due. See mds’s posts.Posted by Dave Maier on 06/14 at 12:22 PM
Christian, Ouch! Granted The Atlantic’s politics are sad. But I imagine a starting short-story writer must publish where he can. And it’s always nice for an Ohioan to find himself following in the literary footsteps of our own WD Howells.Posted by on 06/14 at 01:37 PM
(from 63. above, con’t)
Well, I seem to have walked into “Are you a troll? Take this easy quiz!” and passed with flying colors. Honestly, I never expected anyone to notice this comment, certainly not so quickly on a Sunday, and I’m not prepared to mount a debate immediately. I’ll see if I can reply more usefully soon—though that may take days, ie forever in Internet time—and just make two quick remarks here:
1. Before touching on any actual substance, is it fair for me to observe a certain level of sensitivity, or defensiveness, here? Is there some raw nerve that even a pseudononymous, trollish comment can irritate? For John Protevi, Michael, ohio teach, and any with a similar reaction I would like to ask: what kinds of remarks do you find irritating? If you’ve found yourself inclined to say things like “Yeech! I wish I didn’t have to be bothered by these no-nothing, unwarranted criticisms!,” then tell me: what criticisms, exactly, have you found unwarranted over the years? (Presumably there’s some history here, since well before yesterday....)
2. Michael, you know I love you—everyone who reads here does—and if there is any shelf above the peak of humanism you now occupy then I certainly cannot direct you to it. Seriously, speaking as a civilian, who also has disabilities in the family, I found your reply to Peter Singer as in your 12/1/08 blog entry to be moving and magnificent. But the fact that you and ohio teach are, as individuals, doing God’s work in your disciplines and your classrooms and the world at large does not really touch the main point of your post, which is the reputation of the academic humanities as a whole.
Of course, the you in “y’all” is not you, but “you,” ie the group relevant to the NYTimes article that prompted your post: the sum total of professors, grad students and those who (might) hire them in the fields you include under Humanities. And it is against “you”, not you, that I am lobbing my trollish charge: that there was a time, not yesterday but not that long ago, when “you” (not you) prized, admired and rewarded obscurantism in humanities scholarship. And, to me, deliberate obscurantism—saying to regular people “don’t worry your pretty heads, even though what we’re saying is really, really important you’ll never be able to understand it so don’t even try”—is an act of disconnection ("sawing off") from the main run of people (ie “humanity"). Do you (not “you") believe differently?Posted by on 06/14 at 09:15 PM
Oh Landru, your best defense (keeping the stick on the ice) is to offer the canard that without all that continental pomo philosophical-linguistic relativistic de- and pro- constructionist structuralism isms, is to suggest that without all that perhaps Rupert Murdoch and News Corp would not have aided and abetted the Bush/Cheney dictatorship from creating alternative realities that were accepted lock-stock-barrel as valid and factual??? Thus the notion that US humanities, accepting Euro/US relativistic philosophic notions, helped spawned the disaster that is what it is.
Only the Lakers have achieved the necessary recompense for the RedWings giving away the West/Left.
ps: i am happy for my friend Bill Walton to now be part of the third father-son team to win NBA Championships.Posted by on 06/14 at 10:41 PM
I speak for no one but myself, Landru, but, in the first place, the charge of obscurantism has been lobbed against the humanities far longer than this blog has been around, nor is it at all obvious to me that the charge doesn’t predate the advent of structuralism, etc. I’m just old enough that I can remember when the French landed in Baltimore in the mid-1960s – I was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins at the time – and the charge was well in place before they landed. In his 1957 Anatomy of Criticism, Northrup Frye found it necessary to defend his work against something very like that charge in his “Polemical Introduction.” Thus, for as long as I can remember, my colleagues and I have been plagued by this charge for a long time.
Some may make the charge in good faith, but others, I fear, simply want to freeze humanistic discourse as it was in, say, 1950 (in not 1800). Maybe they’re just lazy, but maybe they’re trying to protect a variety of assumptions and privileges that are embodied in that language. Certainly a lot of the discourse that’s branded as obscure makes a point of arguing that those old humanist ways of talking concealed various social privileges.
Independently of disciplinary critique we have the fact – for I take it to be so – that human behavior is often subtle and complex. As such, specialized intellectual tools are useful to those examing that behavior. Against that necessity the charge of obscuratism looks like standard issue anti-intellectualism.
As for this particular blog, yes, it has been visited by trolls from time to time, including the very recent past. So, you post here under an interesting pseudonym, offering a standard broad-brush criticism ("deliberate obscurantism"), and it looks an aweful lot like you want someone in general to answer to that charge even while you have no skin in the game yourself. Which is to say, you come in looking like a pest. So, you get swatted.Posted by on 06/14 at 10:56 PM
Landru, I went to the store today and bought some Troll Biscuits. So.
Speaking just for myself, I’ll tellya a few kinds of criticisms of my profession that bother me.
1) It’s Always 1987
This is a perennial theme of Michael’s, I think, and your last comment implicitly concedes the point that the Culture Wars are as current as “Thriller.” Did you know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father?
2) Who You Callin’ Obscure?
This may not be you, but I’ll borrow your trick of addressing a larger rhetorical “you,” and say that when “you” attack contemporary lit crit it’s not so much about the PoMo Theory as it is about the multiculturalism. African-American And &c. Lit is cast as “abandoning regular humanity.” No, it’s abandoning an exclusive and narrow canon.
3) All Professors Teach at Research Institutions
A lot of criticism is about the kinds of critical studies of literature being published, or about the topics of a few graduate electives, or the silly titles of some presentations at MLA. Not only are these a small part of what people do in studying literature (hint: it’s almost all teaching classics to undergraduates, or studying ways to teach c. to u.), the study of literature itself is just a part of what any English department does (two words: Freshman Composition, and several more: technical writing, communication, cultural studies), and in my perspective the lit is just a fun diversion from the work of teaching writing. And not only that, but most of the fun diversion gets done at the research campuses, which are the tip of the higher ed iceberg. I don’t teach at one of those. So the sets look like (English teaching (literary study (research (electives based on hifalutin’ research)))). If hifalutin’ theoretical writing is all that’s wrong with English, ain’t much really wrong with it.
3) All Professors are Tenured
What I see wrong with the humanities is mostly about funding, employment, economics. Michael mentioned this too. Most college teaching is not done by instructors on the tenure track, and most of those jobs are not even full-time. This is a problem—getting paid peanuts, no benefits—bad for both instructors and students. And it shows perfectly how much respect the institution and the public have for humanities.
Your comment mentioned “the reputation of the academic humanities.” Reputation where? The figures Michael cited show that students are still attracted to the courses. But those courses are now mostly taught by underpaid underdogs who can’t get no respect.
So, anyway, you probably knew all that. But there are a lot of people who imagine professors are well-paid aesthetes who smoke pipes in their tweed jackets in oak-paneled offices.Posted by on 06/14 at 10:58 PM
Like, for instance, the linked article has a photo of a Yale professor in front of the stained glass windows of his office in one of those ridiculous stone Gothic buildings Yale has. Another photo shows a professor lecturing in a classroom that is not made of cinder blocks. These are not typical teaching environments for the humanities across the U.S.Posted by on 06/14 at 11:05 PM
Please Michael tell me you smoke a pipe in a tweed jacket.
If not I’ve obviously wasted the better part of 2009.
captcha “miss” as in “My girl ran off with my best friend and I miss him”Posted by on 06/14 at 11:26 PM
OK, I’m back home from the annual AAUP national-meeting extravaganza and I have a 7:30 am tee time tomorrow with Nick (who’s back in town for various obscure reasons), but before I get to bed, I want to thank Landru for coming back and leaving a completely allegro non trollo followup. So, thanks, Landru! And extra extra thanks for your kind and gracious words about my response to Peter Singer. For now, just two quick things.
One: Michael, you know I love you—everyone who reads here does
Actually, neither of these throat-clearing utterances are true. Because, dear Landru, you have to understand that I have no idea who you are, so I don’t know that you love me or hate me or treat me with serene indifference; and many of my readers do not love me, as the previous thread (and many other threads on this humble blog) will demonstrate.
Two, and more important: when you say,
And it is against “you”, not you, that I am lobbing my trollish charge: that there was a time, not yesterday but not that long ago, when “you” (not you) prized, admired and rewarded obscurantism in humanities scholarship. And, to me, deliberate obscurantism—saying to regular people “don’t worry your pretty heads, even though what we’re saying is really, really important you’ll never be able to understand it so don’t even try”—is an act of disconnection ("sawing off") from the main run of people (ie “humanity"). Do you (not “you") believe differently?
--my response is (a) yes, of course, I believe differently, and I have made my position on obscurantism clear—yea, very clear—for some time now, (b) I really do have a followup post on this subject, by way of William Deresiewicz’s most recent Nation essay, and I hope you will participate in that discussion when I put up my post sometime this coming week, and (c) even though you say “I’ll see if I can reply more usefully soon—though that may take days, ie forever in Internet time,” you don’t have to worry. Because this blog—as you might have gathered by now—takes weeks, nay, years, to figure out what it thinks about stuff. That’s why it’s responding in mid-June to a New York Times article published in late February. We’re just kind of slow on the uptake around here.Posted by Michael on 06/15 at 01:01 AM
What Spyder and Bill and rm and Michael said. But also: the humanities have always asked questions that fly in the face of common sense truths. That’s our job. That’s how we try to bring humans into understanding of ourselves. But those are the questions “you” don’t want answered, because the answers may, merely may, madame whip up a jovial hullaballoo among the spheres (ahem, pardon me, I can’t quit that Wallace Stevens) may, I meant to say, destabilize comfortable positions of power for the powerful or the comfort of unquestioning acceptance of a mostly benign--for the largely powerless but complaisant “you"--status quo. Thus (for my generation of college women): if there really were no women of any note writing in the 1840s, what was Hawthorne griping about? what constitutes “scribbling” anyway?; or, Okay, so the Fifties was a good time for families, does that include Black families in Mississippi and Alabama? or, more presently, How could cutting taxes and vastly increasing military spending be good for the economy?
Socrates was killed by “you,” remember, for asking too many questions, resulting in corrupting the youth of Athens and turning them against the gods. Guess that means he was saying nothing was certain. And I’m almost certain Hippias accused him of being obscurantist and overly-complicating things about midway through the Hippias Major. Seems familiar.Posted by on 06/15 at 07:18 AM
Did you know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father?
Hey, rm, spoilers!
These are not typical teaching environments for the humanities across the U.S.
I will attest that in fact the “stained glass” backdrop is not a typical office feature even at Yale. Professor Kronman may have written a relevant book on liberal arts education, but he is a law professor. For many Yale faculty, any window at all would be a perk, let alone the Law School Bling. On the other hand, I’m not even a professor, and I don’t smoke, yet my office has a (leaky) window, and I do sometimes wears a tweed jacket. Which I guess proves Landru’s point. (As to whether I’m an aesthete, well, my desk is hardly a thing of beauty.)
Seriously, though, I wish all these tut-tutters about the utility of the humanities would actually pay attention to the hordes who have attended places like the “Harvards of the Midwest,” where the liberal arts played a large role in the education even of non-humanities majors. And I would suspect that people like Orange’s husband are more common than the NYT’s Mouton-sipping arbiters of worthiness suspect.Posted by on 06/15 at 09:07 AM
I also attended a “HotM” candidate, although it was more frequently rendered as the “Harvard of Ohio"*,**. I did (and do) find it a bit offputting, but it was what was. But I am assured that back in the day the humanities at the “Harvard of the Veldt” were totally relevant.
*Maybe they just wanted to avoid contentious discussions of where the the midwest starts. Which reminds me that Pittsburgh native Annie Dillard supports me in assigning P’burgh to the midwest in An American Childhood, unfortunately the page that includes her reasoning is not displayed in Amazon search (I think it may have been “politeness").
**Possibly it really wasm and this may explain why I have poor punctuation and suffer from homophone misspellings.Posted by on 06/15 at 11:29 AM
I also attended a “HotM” candidate, although it was more frequently rendered as the “Harvard of Ohio”
Out here, we spell it “Harvard of Iowa.” Also, isn’t Miami in Florida?
Which reminds me that Pittsburgh native Annie Dillard supports me in assigning P’burgh to the midwest in An American Childhood
Again, it’s not necessarily whether people from Pittsburgh believe it, but whether they have any clue about any other part of its composition beyond Sandusky. Coming from the other direction, I could find much familiar in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio (outside of Cleveland). But there was a definite difference, however intangible, by the time Pennsylvania was reached.
(I think it may have been “politeness").
...Okay, this would lead to a much weirder map than the soft drink one, so maybe we should go with “pop” after all.
Anyway, the problem is probably that the current regional labels are too monolithic. Pennsylvania has substantial cultural differences across its axes. So does Minnesota, Even “state” is a misleading category in such matters; what hope for “Middle Atlantic,” “Midwest,” “Confederacy,” etc.?Posted by on 06/15 at 12:22 PM
I swear to Moloch (when in Rome...), when I was an undergrad, I heard someone refer to Harvard as “the Michigan of the east, except with a crappy football team.”
BTW, mostly I love the Paterno professor, except when he’s whining about football games.Posted by on 06/15 at 03:07 PM
Having attended both Caltech and University of Miami, (the FL version) Harvard comparisons were not particularly relevant or interesting. The people were on average smarter at Caltech and had better tans at Miami.Posted by on 06/15 at 04:12 PM
Given there are fine Harvards of the Midwest, then they too must have spawned their Summers; in this case Arne Duncan (raised literally in the University of Chicago and then went to Harvard), who has taken his own Chávezian pledge to nationalize all edumacation:
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced yesterday an ambitious plan to help states develop uniform national standards for reading and math. Duncan pledged $350 million to help states develop the new standards and end the “current patchwork of benchmarks across the nation.” Forty-six states and the District of Columbia agreed earlier this month to “craft a single vision for what children should learn each year from kindergarten through high school graduation.” Duncan praised the move, declaring, “We have 50 different standards, 50 different goal posts. ... We want to fundamentally reverse that. We want common, career-ready internationally benchmarked standards.” Duncan said yesterday that the federal funds would be used to design new national tests, replacing the numerous tests in use in individual states. Responding to questions about the focus on testing, Duncan said, “I think in this country we have too many bad tests. ... If we’re going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them.” In a report from 2008 on the need for national standards in education, Matt Miller at the Center for American Progress wrote that, “by leaving the definition of standards and proficiency requirements to the states, No Child Left Behind—like earlier efforts in the educational standards movement—makes it impossible for us to know where kids stand. ...[I]n today’s ‘flat’ world we can’t have the rigor of a child’s education, and thus chances for success, depend on the accident of where they happen to be born.”
Did this guy receive any humanity education, or is the captcha speaking truth: ‘same’ as it ever was?Posted by on 06/15 at 04:16 PM
"We want common, career-ready internationally benchmarked standards.” [Emphasis added]
Excuse me, I have to go stab one of my eyes out with a fork now. The only even-remotely-inspired-by-socialism thing that’s come out of the Obama administration, and it has to be this dumbassery? I’m getting really close to moving to Canada. Where government ministers unilaterally decide to shut down academic conferences they don’t agree with. Oh, well, there’s always Greenland, where the socialist pro-independence party just put together a government… by forming a coalition that includes the left-liberal pro-Danish party. That should at least get interesting.Posted by on 06/15 at 04:46 PM
Listening to Mike Lang rebroadcast of game 7 on 105.9 right now, 3rd period. Web stream here.Posted by on 06/15 at 07:00 PM
PENS WIN! Pens w… oops.Posted by on 06/15 at 07:43 PM
Wow. You can get elected in Greenland by being in favor of Danish? Coffee Crumb Cakes all around. Let them eat cake.Posted by on 06/15 at 08:01 PM
Again, it’s not necessarily whether people from Pittsburgh believe it, but whether they have any clue about any other part of its composition beyond Sandusky.
Not really the right place to go into it, but it was a bit unfair to break out the P’burgh/Midwest discussion across several threads when it is in fact part of a much longer discussion about which I have been short and flippant. (Yes regional labels are way too coarse-grained, but still fun to debate.) I should fire up my defunct blog just to expand on this one.
1) I was born in raised in small NE Ohio city (in fact on the western side of my city, where my two childhood homes had expansive views to the southwest which afforded me the opportunity to watch with trepidation for the tornado that I was sure was going to come and kill me, but which usually petered out to the west of us. (see Palm Sunday 1965 tornado outbreak, for instance)). It was definitely a midwestern city.
2) My parents were from Minnesota/Wisconsin and western Ohio where I spent a lot of time and the extended family generally spread from there to Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, so I have a fair bit of experience of that part of the undebatably midwest.
3) I subsequently married into a NY City family which gave me a fair bit of experience of the east and how different it was from Pittsburgh.
4) I am a total geography nerd on this stuff.
5) I will admit that when I was a kid and we traveled to Pittsburgh it felt like things changed far more than if you went from my city to, say, Des Moines. Only recently have I come to my current view. On the superficial level of things like the hills P’burgh is quite different, but at a deeper level (as might be examined in cultural geographic theory ...), the midwest is its best primary identity.
6) It clearly is in something of a transition zone, maybe it is even its own “Appalachian” region. As you have indicated Buffalo and Rochester, are even more problematic, easternness seeps through the Mohawk Valley (what NY Central called the “Water Level Route” to compete against the Pennsy and Horseshoe Curve). Per MB, the Rust Belt (or eastern Rust Belt) is the strongest secondary regional characteristic.
7)Some people on the interrnets vociferously disagree with this.
8) More some other time. I have hours of this stuff.
9) Re: your mention of Sandusky, I note that in my experience when Pittsburgh folks want to upgrade from Kennywood they are for more likely to go west to Cedar Point than east to Hersheypark.Posted by on 06/15 at 10:21 PM
My favorite quote of the day:
“As people become more intelligent they care less for preachers and more for teachers” R. G. Ingersoll
One can only hope the teachers have taken the opportunity to delve deeply into the humanities, even if they choose to become physics professors.Posted by on 06/16 at 12:03 AM
but it was a bit unfair to break out the P’burgh/Midwest discussion across several threads when it is in fact part of a much longer discussion
True, but think of all the fun we’ve created for future blog archaeologists*.
It was definitely a midwestern city.
Yeah, I’m not really disputing much of Ohio (barring Cleveland and the Kentucky-flavored nether reaches). But there’s that big shimmering barrier at the Pennsylvania border, remember?
It clearly is in something of a transition zone, maybe it is even its own “Appalachian” region.
This I have no problem with. Infinite diversity in infinite combination. As you say, it’s more Midwestern, but if nothing else western PA doesn’t have quite enough hog lots. Or Lutherans.
Meanwhile, if cultural geography is one of your “things,” you definitely need to get your old blawg back on line to expound upon such themes. And then I can troll it.
Some people on the interrnets vociferously disagree with this.
Well, I don’t know about “vociferously,” you diminutive metal-armed genocidal geographer from Ohio**.
*Which leads yet again to my hobby horse of long-term accessibility of electronic information. I really should resurrect my non-existent blog.
**Whoops, need to work on my atrophied trolling technique.Posted by on 06/16 at 08:44 AM
Well, I don’t know about “vociferously,” you diminutive metal-armed genocidal geographer from Ohio
Your disagreement is downright neighborly. As opposed to, “You find something of the midwest in Pittsburgh? You’re dead to me, dead!”Posted by on 06/16 at 10:22 AM
Your disagreement is downright neighborly.
Well, I am from the Midwest.Posted by on 06/16 at 11:01 AM
Well, I guess the caravan has moved on by now; but I appreciate the folks who replied to 63. & 73. above and wanted to try and return some value even at this late date.
To rm, re: 76. ,following 73. --
I have two questions for you, starting with the shorter one first from your point (1):
“1) It’s Always 1987
This is a perennial theme of Michael’s, I think, and your last comment implicitly concedes the point that the Culture Wars are as current as “Thriller.” Did you know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father?”
Yes, I’ve seen this theme before but don’t know exactly quite what’s meant by it. Presumably if remarks that fit the critique “It’s always 1987” are tedious, it’s because you think things have changed since then. Not unreasonable! on its face, but I’d like to know more specifically what you think has changed. If the Culture Wars were a response to facts in the world, have those facts changed? (I’m not sure I think they have, but I’m much more interested in your view than in mine.) Has the practice of humanities scholarship changed? Did someone win the Culture Wars while I forgot to renew a subscription? If you have the time, please expand a bit on how you think 1987 differs from today.
BTW: I’m pretty sure I haven’t listened to “Thriller” for the last time, so in some sense I guess it is still current for me. I’ve noticed that for many people—not all, but many—they find their musical tastes freeze at some point in their lives, most commonly in their mid-late twenties, after which they don’t adopt new works nearly as much. Do you think people’s feelings about cultural atmospheres could similarly freeze? Come to think of it, I was in my mid-twenties in 1987.Posted by on 06/19 at 11:18 PM
It happens that Ta-Nehisi Coates is discussing Thriller (and there’s a follow-up post too). So, I guess the past isn’t even past.
What I mean by borrowing Michael’s (not Jackson, Be-accent-ague-rube-accent-ague) “always 1987” phrase is not that the world’s turning has changed the conditions which made the “culture wars” relevant, but instead that that period looks like a frivolous, irrelevant moment in public discourse. Most of that debate rings false (a lot of anxiety over news that was not actually true) or was about things that were pretty small potatoes (in English, the presence of new theories in the cutting-edge research institutions, which relates to the whole discipline the way the presence of a new cuisine at 5-star restaurants in New York relates to the menu at O’Charley’s). The long-term economic, institutional decline of college teaching in humanities is a story almost completely unrelated to which literary theories were sparking debate at conferences. It’s just beside the point.
I guess I think that (1) fancy theory is the tail on the dog of humanities, not the main body, and (2) public hand-wringing over the loss of “standards” represented by Theory was and is unfair to most theories, which as Michael said somewhere above, are mostly about the “human” part of humanities (are disability, race, gender, or sexuality not human experiences?), and (3) public hand-wringing over the loss of “standards” represented by “diversity” in literature curricula (Shakespeare has been shoved aside by that uppity Alice Walker!) was and is usually wrong (no one has dropped Shakespeare) and a symptom of anxiety over losing an unearned privilege (to have the white or male perspectives be taken as normative all the time).Posted by on 06/20 at 12:22 AM
Landru, I was trying to figure out what your second question was, and for a while I thought it was about Darth Vader. Now I realize it’s whether I think our sense of culture freezes like our sense of music does. Sure, of course, don’t you agree? In politics, it seems to me baby boomers have seen things through the lens of the Vietnam era when actual situations bore no resemblance to those times, and I’m sure you and I have an ‘80s Reagan-era sensibility in our experience of current times. These young kids I teach, they don’t know anything. The internet has always existed and the Soviet Union, never.
You write as an outsider to humanities, but I’m wondering if you are writing as a scholar from some other field, or what your interest is. If studying literature (it’s not my main thing) has taught be any big insight, it’s that cultural narratives survive for generations and generations. No one remembers the actual war, or whatever event gives rise to a particular stereotype or image, but centuries later that narrative is pop culture.Posted by on 06/20 at 12:34 AM
1987 = publication date of Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom, which went on to sell a half-million copies in hardback and rose to the top of the NYTimes best-seller list. This is THE major philosophical brief for teh Chicken Little side of teh Culture Wars.Posted by on 06/20 at 07:22 AM
And the date of E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy. I attended a conference session discussing the legacy of these books at four Cs (the rhetoric + composition conference) a few years ago. The conversation reminded me that Hirsch made an argument worthy of engagement in a way that Bloom did not. (Bloom’s COTAM is all anxiety and projection and the unintentional bigotry that flows from well-meaning ignorance; it’s aged as well as some of those Twilight Zone episodes).
First, you don’t have to take Hirsch’s lists of background knowledge as normative—if you take them as descriptive, it’s not really a conservative book, and not really polemic. Some folks showed up at this session just to argue that Hirsch has been misread, and I dunno, they might be right.
Second, even if it’s conservative and normative, the very idea that background knowledge is necessary for education (and writing and reading in general) is just a truism. Everyone who teaches on the lower links of the Great Chain of University Being feels the need for students to know, like, what century the Civil War took place in. The arguments are over what knowledge matters, whether the knowledge valued by society is what it should be, what stance to take towards it, and so on. And, of course, how we theorize it.Posted by on 06/20 at 10:46 AM
Aigu. Not ague—an accent ague would be the way one speaks with a very stuffed nose. I are ignorant.Posted by on 06/20 at 11:58 AM
And the caravan hasn’t moved on—I just need to find a few hours to write the followup this week. In the meantime—
(Bloom’s COTAM is all anxiety and projection and the unintentional bigotry that flows from well-meaning ignorance; it’s aged as well as some of those Twilight Zone episodes).
-- it’s nice to see these threads get woven together. About “it’s always 1987”: all I mean is that the same arguments about Theory get trotted out time and again, even if the names and faces change. As in that quite wonderful Twilight Zone episode, “Shadow Play.”Posted by on 06/20 at 12:52 PM
I’ll be most interested to read your follow-up, Michael. You’d mentioned something about William Derewiescz’s latest piece in The Nation. From my point of view that piece is mostly about so-called literay Darwinism, but he does get in some jibes against Theory and he does end with his prescription for what the humanities damn well ought to be doing. I’d say his prescription reads like “it’s always 1987” except that 1887 may be more like it. With defenders like that the humanities doesn’t need traitors, rapscallions, and enemies.Posted by Bill Benzon on 06/20 at 07:22 PM
To rm, re. 76. and 97. above --
Thanks! for your reply, and for giving me a good intro to my second question for you.
I loved the restaurant analogy, and the plain-text Venn diagram. I understand your point as being that criticism of high-brow Theory (justified or otherwise) should not reflect badly on the enterprise of the humanities as a whole, since (i) only a tiny fraction of the effort spent by people working in academic humanities goes into doing high-brow Theory, and (ii) the practice of high-brow Theory has negligible effect on what actually goes on in classrooms, and student experience was the subject of the NYTimes piece that originally inspired the post.
Before going on with my views, I pause to wonder whether the high-brow Theorists would agree with you on these points. What do you think? I just made a pass by the “Literary Criticism” section of my local Borders bookstore to look for one of Michael’s books; sadly they weren’t on the shelf (hard to keep in stock?), but in their place I did come across a book titled “French Theory—How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States.” Yowza! how can something that transformed the intellectual life of the US—which must include the humanities in a big way—really be just the tail on the dog, as you put it? In general, “you” can’t have it both ways, as defenders of Theory seem to flip schizophrenically between saying either that (a) high-brow Theory is a super-meaningful undertaking, a peak of the humanities that deserves high respect (and tenure slots); or (b) it’s an insignificant side enterprise to humanities that can’t be threatening because it has so little real impact.
Your own comments, cogent and not at all schizoid, would seem to put you solidly in (b). But I don’t think you can avoid being lumped into (a) whether you like it or not. I think the the important question in the reputation of the humanities, especially among outsiders, is not what goes on in the vineyards day-to-day but what the field’s value system appears to be. And here I can say, “To whom do ye give tenure, by that ye shall be known.” The center of your Venn diagram is also the peak of a pyramid, the activity of the people who get the most support and so have the most freedom of action. During the high ride of Theory, who stood a better chance of being tenured in the humanities, a solid teacher of undergraduates who had actually helped the lives of hundreds of students? or a Theorist who spoke only hyper-ese to a handful of other hyper-esians? (Borrowing from the Pirates of the Caribbean, “You’d better start believing in David Lodge novels, you’re in one.") In short, the values of any field are encoded in on whom it bestows its honors and scarcest resources; and by that scale it looks as though high-brow Theory was the crown jewel of academic humanities for a good long time.
Why might this matter to your program? Coming back to the restaurant analogy, suppose I were considering whether or not to visit a new foreign country and am particularly interested in what the food is like there. Now suppose the guide book informs me that the five-star cuisine in the country is very innovative, and recently favors a dish of squid entrails with river mud glaze over a bed of plywood fritters. Even if I’m not going to visit any five-starred, or even one-starred restaurants, can you see how I might be leery of the country’s food supply as a whole? Even if you, who reside in the country, tell me “Don’t worry about that scary five-star stuff; most of the country is just like Denny’s, you’ll be fine,” can you see how that might not be completely reassuring? Similarly, if I’m discussing with my daughter what she might major in in college, can you see why your statements of “Don’t be bothered by what the tenured people with named chairs spend their time doing, most of the program is just fine,” aren’t really a ringing endorsement for the humanities? I don’t believe that the rise of Theory and the economic decline of the humanities you describe are as disconnected as you might think.Posted by on 06/20 at 11:24 PM
Landru, you sound like you aren’t going to take “whatever” for an answer. If I keep responding to you like this, I’m gonna have to get my own blog.
I, as an individual, did not create the intellectual history of my profession. Stop doing that. I can only tell you that what actually gets a person tenure is publishing something that’s peer-reviewed. Only at the tippy top of the pyramid does the level of theoreticalness of the publication become a matter of contention. You insist on seeing us all as one big thing.
My own specialty is called “Rhetoric & Composition,” and we “Compositionists” like to think we are doing the most important work in English (that is, teaching writing) and like to think of those literature people as just a bubble in our Venn diagram (lit is just a sub-category of writing, you see) . . . and yet, and yet, no one outside of English departments is even aware that such a group exists (U.S. News sure ain’t never heard of us) and within English departments we are generally the peons, the service workers, the ones who teach freshmen. (This seems cruelly ironic since, if one is foolish enough to go to grad school in English, specializing in Rhet/Comp is one of the better bets for finding a job (Tech Writing gives you good prospects; Rhet/Comp, not entirely hopeless; and Lit, hopeless; I know nothing about Creative Writing.)) But I digress—my real point is that of course the participants in a big Theory discussion feel like Theory is The Most Important Thing Ever. Everyone who is deeply involved in something feels like it’s really, really important. We R/C fools even think we’re important . . . ha!
And also, in a contrary mode, I want to defend Theory; I notice that you continue to say theory is just all too abstruse and inhuman, and that if you can’t characterize all of the humanities as High Theory you’ll resort to calling High Theory the one true representative sample of the humanities. Well, a lot of that theory is too worthwhile. That’s what we keep saying; for just one example go back up and re-read ohio teach in 67 and 80. If we keep telling you “that’s not an accurate representation,” and you keep saying “your counter-examples don’t actually count” we might start thinking you don’t really want to converse.Posted by on 06/21 at 12:03 AM
@104: Landru, “Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States” is a book title. Book titles are composed in negotiation with the marketing departments of publishers. The book title in question is the translation of a book title of a French book. The translation rights holder and marketing department of the American translation thought it would be a good hook for Americans used to years of Bloomian denunciation to bring up the “decadent French sophisticates corrupt the innocent Americans” trope, while the French publishers actually underplayed things with their title (les mutations de la vie intellectuelle aux Etats-Unis) while still trying to hook their reading public with an iteration of the “urbane French sophisticates bring some culture to the New World rubes” trope.
Moral of this story: don’t judge a sociology of knowledge thesis by a book cover.
[ / snark]
Seriously, though, if you’re serious about the quetion of the French in America, post-Hopkins ‘67 you’d have to begin (at the least) with the reception of Sartre, Camus, Beauvoir as existentialists in the 50s, that is, the Cold War. And then we’d have to tackle the very, ahem, controversial thesis of John McCumber in _Time in the Ditch_ as to the effects of McCarthyism on the composition of American philosophy departments—not forgetting the shift away from Deweyean pragmatism as well!—toward a, and again this is a controversial term, scientistic form of philosophy in the form of Quine. And all this in the context of the RAND Corp’s role in formulating what becomes Rational Choice Theory (SM Amadae, _Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy_ and P Mirowski, _Machine Dreams_) and the Chicago School’s role in importing what becomes known as neoliberalism (which, in Mirowski’s reading in _The Road from Mont Pelerin_, is primarily an epistemological position)—notwithstanding the big differences between the Chicago and the Austrian branches of the Chicago School itself (Hayek in the Committee on Social Thought vs Friedman in the Econ dept). And all these movements as instrumental (a big word, that) in pushing forth a certain conception of reason and the rational agent that becomes a point of contention between the “analytics” and the “continentals.”
But once we’ve done that, we then have to break up that grotesque abstraction “continental philosophy” and distinguish the Germans from the French. But “the French” is just as big an abstraction (that is, it’s not a good category to use if you want to be careful) so we have distinguish Derrida from Deleuze from Foucault (and from the “French feminists” [Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, none of whom were, not to point too fine a point on it, French]) and their reception in the US academy in “the humanities” (but what kind of big honking abstraction is that term, I ask you?) and the social sciences. A historian and a criminologist using _Discipline and Punish_ is a bit different from, as Michael I think once said, Shoshana Felman’s use of the term “phallologocentrism” in an MLA paper. Which is in turn different from a philosopher and a geographer collaborating on a book called _Deleuze and Geophilosophy_ which uses dynamical systems theory as its main conceptual framework.
All that by way of saying, Landru, that the way you have introduced this topic is in need of being made much more concrete and historically specific for it to be much good at actually engaging with “the rise of Theory and the economic decline of the humanities,” since, as I’ve tried to show, neoliberalism is quite closely linked to “the humanities” on both the inside and the outside of the academy. As the wave of interest in Foucault’s reading of neoliberalism in _Birth of Biopolitics_ will attest.Posted by John Protevi on 06/21 at 09:57 AM
Follow up: I realize I haven’t really demonstrated the role of neoliberalism as it affects the humanities from “outside” the academy. But that’s too big a topic, so I’ll just mention two dates (from memory, so don’t shoot me): 1972, when the Federal government starts making loans directly to students rather than subsidizing universities (thus giving a big boost to the individual student as consumer of educational services model and away from education as a communal project to form the next generation of citizens [the Deweyean model, I think]) and 1980, the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act, which allows universities to share in patents (thus giving a big boost to the “socialize the risks and privatize the profits” model of research).
Captcha, and this is beginning to get spooky: “congress” as in “that body which passed the Bayh-Dole Act.”Posted by John Protevi on 06/21 at 10:10 AM
you’ll never be able to understand it so don’t even try
JP, I think Landru set an illegitimate rhetorical trap, such that when you respond from a standpoint of actually knowing the topic, he can accuse you of saying the above. I hope Landru is better than that. I think your comment explains a lot.
I think that perhaps, maybe, arguably these two statements might be true:
(1) The stuff people in humanities study was not less difficult or complex in the Old Days than it is now.
(2) The stuff people in humanities study is more inclusive now than it was then.
The logical inference is that the main motivation for thinking that Humanities have become Posthumanities is panic over the expansion of civil rights and cultural inclusiveness, not a gasp of horror at the impenetrability of Theory. No one seems to expect that college-level material in math or physics or nursing will be self-evident and easy to master for the laity—I guess art and reading and stuff like that is supposed to be easy. But if it were all so simple, why would we need to study it at all? Which is what administrators often think, which is part of the mechanism by which humanities can be staffed with underpaid part-time peons.
Landru, I think your linkage of Theory with decline only works if students are turning away, but part of Michael’s post showed evidence they are not. Dollars are turning away though, and JP’s narrative explains that a lot better.Posted by on 06/21 at 11:14 PM
you’ll never be able to understand it so don’t even try
I hope he won’t say that either, rm, since I’m not arguing that he doesn’t have the intellectual firepower to understand the topic (the reception of Theory in the US). What I’m arguing is that you have to do some homework in order to reach the level of concretion necessary to see the important interactions. That’s why the books I cited as examples of those important for context (McCumber, Amadae, Mirowski) were not “Theory” books, but history books.Posted by John Protevi on 06/22 at 09:08 AM
Well, since Theory was dominant in English departments in the 80s and 90s while undergraduate enrollments were increasing, it’s hard to argue that Theory is responsible for any decline on that front. But since I’m not sure what my blogging schedule will look like this week, I’ll just say to Landru for now that (a) the cliquishness and jargon are offputting, yes, and (b) it finally occurs to me that I wrote about such things four years ago, on this very blog. If you’re still interested:
Recommended for everyone who’s thinking about discussing humanities majors with their children—and for anyone else who’s curious as to what an “introduction to theory” might entail.Posted by Michael on 06/22 at 11:27 AM
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It’s really quite something. Despite Michael’s best attempts to gleefully tell us all to fuck off and let him deconstructionize stuff, we still come back. It’s battered commenter syndrome, is what it is.Posted by photographe liège on 08/08 at 02:09 AM
Thanks! for your reply, and for giving me a good intro to my second question for you.Posted by accessoires pour chiens on 08/27 at 02:59 PM
Your disagreement is downright neighborly. As opposed to, “You find something of the midwest in Pittsburgh? You’re dead to me, dead!”Posted by photographe enfants on 08/27 at 03:01 PM
Thanks alot for my new wallpaper.Posted by psychologue liège on 11/08 at 07:43 PM
Nice, thanksPosted by photographe pour enfants on 12/01 at 07:45 PM
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The humanities are only necessary if we want to become decent human beings, to develop a sense of irony which will temper our self-righteousness and enlarge our empathy for those whom fortune has not smiled upon. Other than that, it’s not worth much. Just a lot of fucking poetry. Tough economic times teach us that college is really about learning skills how much does it cost to build a house djh How to Select House Plans
which will help us make money, pontificate about how that earned money is based completely upon merit, and that without the effort of such elites the whole political and economic system might collapse. Without such knowledge and expertise, who would bail us out of our current predicament?Posted by on 02/07 at 10:23 PM
JP, I think Landru set an illegitimate rhetorical trap, such that when you respond from a standpoint of lanpisu dg whydo dt yamidian gh pregnant
actually knowing the topic, he can accuse you of saying the above. I hope Landru is better than that. I think your comment explains a lot.Posted by on 02/07 at 10:27 PM
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