16 July 2013

Who ruined the humanities? Humanities departments.

This article (Lid dip to Instapundit) , "Who Ruined the Humanities?", which is the Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal of 12 July 2013, struck a real chord with me. The sub-heading reads:

Of course it's important to read the great poets and novelists. But not in a university classroom, where literature has been turned into a bland, soulless competition for grades and status.

What is it about contemporary college curricula all around the Western world that makes it look past the most powerful and insightful understanding brought to us by the cannon of our civilization's great literature to the mere process?

If Shakespeare is taught as a deconstructed, ante-feminist, pre-colonial, racist expression of the dominant white male monarchical social order, is there any wonder that nearly everyone so taught will miss the point and not perceive the majesty, subtlety and astonishing insight into the human condition?

Yes, it is hard to teach the substance of great art when it is so ineffable and illusive. But to reduce it to process, technique and context and measure and record student performance on such incidental efflusia is a high order travesty. It brings literature and art down to the metrics of management theory and engineering projects.  These are worthy subjects in their own right, but completely distinct from, and not to be conflated with, the rare and incisive epiphanies of great art.

Lee Siegel, the author of the above article gets it:
No longer will the reading of, say, "King Lear" or D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" result in the flattening of these transfiguring encounters into just two more elements in an undergraduate career—the onerous stuff of multiple-choice quizzes, exam essays and homework assignments.
And he says, oh glory of glories::
So you see, I am not making a brief against reading the classics of Western literature. Far from it. I am against taking these startling epiphanies of the irrational, unspoken, unthought-of side of human life into the college classroom and turning them into the bland exercises in competition, hierarchy and information-accumulation that are these works' mortal enemies.

Yes. Yes!  I embrace you, Lee Siegel. You get it.
Why, oh why, do department academics not get it?

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