Dear gentle readers,
Sorry for my long absence. I do hope that I can post more regularly. Over the past few weeks, I have been coming up with all kinds of cool things that I should post about, and now, when I have a bit of free time to post, I cannot think of a single topic....mer.
So what to discuss? What topics are most relevant right now? Well naturally I could talk about that huge elephant in the room....the fact that America is officially under new leadership. But many have already taken this on many times and have done a better job than myself. I would throw in a word of caution. Listen to that inaugration speech again, and pick up on some of the more problematic phrases. The most troubling, "We will harness the sun"....yes, I like a green America, but this rhetoric is scary. Also, refiguring education is good, but perhaps we should think about more than the sciences, yes?
Which finally gets to the topic of choice...the role of the humanities. Stanley Fish recently wrote about this topic - here. I suggest that you read his article. And I hope that you get as angry as I have. Sadly, I fear he is right, and I am not certain what to do about it. Many people have complained to me that academia is just not functional, that it is a waste of time, space, and money. My response has always been that academia provides society something useful. Personally, I have always believed knowledge for knowledge sake, but I have come to realize that this trope is no longer satisfying. So what is the relevance, the importance of humanities? What is the functionality of the academy?
My response is a simple one: nothing. Ok, not that simple. If the humanities does anything, it serves to continually question and refigure cultural and social narratives. In light of the current economical arguments against high ed, it seems that academia's real ability is in questioning the need for functionality. What does it mean for something to be functional? How do we draw these lines? What gets cut when we draw these lines? The humanities provides these questions, and helps to underscore that current calls for functionality are constructed and cultural, not intrinsic. Naturally, then, of course, the inquisitiviness of the humanities can be used in more areas, more functionalities.
Intellectually and socially, I think that all academic work serves a crucial role in help us to understand our cultural moment. Yes, boring and often funded academic projects happen, and they seem a total waste of time. Even some academics seem a complete waste of time. But my fear comes in when we try to decide which knowledge is functional, and which is not. We cannot know what future generations will need, what is important to them. And I have always been a supportor of creating more space for knowledge rather than foreclosing. For instance, a great example comes from my interest in materiality of objects.
When digitization efforts first starting happening, some libraries decided to throw out the material artifact once it had been scanned. As a result, many original copies of newspapers have been destroyed, material newspapers that are now important to how we understand the development of printing. The same can be said of many books that have gone the same route. My point here is that we can never know what is need for the future, and we should try our best to preserve as much information as is physically possible. Occasionally, you have to throw out the newspapers, it is just unavoidable, but if you do, do so knowing the consequences.
So yes now the humanities seems "useless" but I rather not live in a society that can't see beyond its own time.
Then again, I am one of those useless academics fighting for my spot in the world. Perhaps I am just an old relic.
Your Humble Author