Repost-Roger Scruton ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Full article here.

So what’s lacking in the humanities?  Roger Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science  (however…it’s been done before with some success).  Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

And now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”

So how to restore the vision? Scruton advised to restore (and not eschew) judgment:

Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”

This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resisted his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses.  Here are the last few lines:

“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”

One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”

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On another note:  Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth:  Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?

We know the humanities will never be a science.  Politics is always in conflict with the arts.   Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best.   In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).

One target here may be somewhat political as well:  anti-social constructionism and anti-multiculturalism, though I am speculating.

Just some food for thought.

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ 

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5

‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast’-Repost-A Few Tom Wolfe Links

Published in Harper’s in 1989: ‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast‘:

‘One of the specialties of the realistic novel, from Richardson on, was the demonstration of the influence of society on even the most personal aspects of the life of the individual. Lionel Trilling was right when he said, in 1948, that what produced great characters in the nineteenth-century European novel was the portrayal of “class traits modified by personality.” But he went on to argue that the old class structure by now had disintegrated, particularly in the United States, rendering the technique useless. Again, I would say that precisely the opposite is the case. If we substitute for class, in Trilling’s formulation, the broader term status, that technique has never been more essential in portraying the innermost life of the individual. This is above all true when the subject is the modern city. It strikes me as folly to believe that you can portray the individual in the city today without also portraying the city itself.’

I’m just glad he was there for so long:

Website here.

Michael Lewis at Vanity Fair: ‘How Tom Wolfe Became….Tom Wolfe

‘New York City was—and still is—the only place on earth where a writer might set himself up as a professional tour guide and attract the interest of the entire planet. That’s mainly what Wolfe was, at least in the beginning: his job was to observe the sophisticates in their nutty bubble for the pleasure of the rubes in the hinterlands, and then, from time to time, venture out into the hinterlands and explain what is really going on out there to the sophisticates inside the bubble. He moves back and forth like a bridge player, ruffing the city and the country against each other. He occupies a place in between. He dresses exotically and is talented and intellectually powerful, like the sophisticates in the bubble. But he isn’t really one of them. To an extent that shocks the people inside the bubble, when they learn of it, he shares the values of the hinterland. He believes in God, Country, and even, up to a point, Republican Presidents. He even has his doubts about the reach of evolutionary theory.’

From ‘The Pump House Gang: Introduction

‘Hefner showed me through his chambers. The place was kept completely draped and shuttered. The only light, day or night, was electric. It would be impossible to keep track of the days in there. And presently Hefner jumped onto . . . the center of his world, the bed in his bedroom. Aimed at the bed was a TV camera he was very proud of.’

As posted:

Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

The satire of the liberal intelligentsia is pretty rich, as well as the Southern Gentleman’s WASP ‘rejuvenation.’ You just know Christopher Hitchens had to get-in on that action:

From the Late Show in 1989 with Howard Jacobson:

===============

Was Tom Wolfe seeing things clearly, as they really are?

Certainly the liberal pieties and the conflicted, activist base is still ripe for the picking…for what is preventing the mocking of the Brooklyn hipster and the echoing of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ across the fruited plain?:

Peter Berkowitz review of Tom Wolfe’s Miami novel here.

What are you looking for in a novel: Ideas and the deployment of ideas? A reflection of your life/times/society? Good prose? Characters that pop into your life? Glimpses of the author? Pleasure?

‘The deeper divisions, as Wolfe’s novel compellingly presents them, are between those who believe that happiness consists in one form of pleasure or another — including the aesthetic pleasure of sensitively glimpsing one’s own sensitivities and the sensitivities of others — and those who, like Tom Wolfe and his heroes, believe that happiness consists in the exercise of courage, self-control, and the other qualities of mind and character that constitute human excellence.’

A New Yorker review here.

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s for a rich account of the 60′s. I remember reading ‘A Man In Full‘ a while back.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Art & Entertainment-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Ira Glass Is a Philistine for Saying Shakespeare Sucks, But He’s in Good Company’

Full piece here.

There’s some bard-hating going on, or at least some skepticism:

 ‘To Shaw, whose plays are political and polemical, Shakespeare was not political or polemical enough; to Tolstoy, who strove for organic naturalness, Shakespeare was neither organic nor natural. When T.S. Eliot declared that Hamlet was an artistic failure, he was not trying to make people stop seeing or reading Hamlet; rather, he was trying to get us to change the way we think about what makes a play successful.

In America, there is a strong democratic, leveling impulse, aside from political philosophy (addition: by this I mean which transcends most political conversations I’ve had, and is deep in our project), which artistic genius often pushes against, and/or comes to embrace for money and effect (writers like Faulkner in Hollywood).

Imagine yourself with these lines in your head at the checkout line:

From T.S. Eliot’s Preludes

3.

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

——

And suddenly you’re back in daily life, staring at Bat Boy, from the defunct Weekly World News.

batboy.gif

Related On This Site: When poetry went into the universities: Repost-From Poemshape: ‘Let Poetry Die’

Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily argues the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion (was he most after freeing art from a few thousand years of Christianity, monarchy and aristocracy…something deeper?), at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?From 2 Blowhards-We Need The Arts: A Sob Story

Repost-From David Thompson: ‘Postmodernism Unpeeled’

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Full post here.

If you’ve studied in a humanities department, you’ve probably noticed a divide between what you read and wrote there and the culture at large: movies, videos, music videos, songs, broadcast news etc… which (as Camille Paglia argues) is the culture for a majority of Americans.

The author Frank Donoghue, whom Fish reviews, argues that it’s a losing proposition to even try and work against this tide, mostly for financial reasons:

“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past.

The departments are not self-sustaining, and it’s evident from within.

I would argue that much of Donoghue’s thinking has likely been influenced by the idea that because there is a lack of a central vision of what liberal learning ought to consist of (in part due to the influences of Continental postmodernist thinkers, the tail end of Existentialism etc. again this is a Paglian view of things, with some Allan Bloom thrown in)…

…as a result race, identity, gender politics, and all manner of other interests (many politically left) have helped filled the void.  I won’t argue that these groups don’t contain a lot of truth as many others on the political right are doing.

I will argue that from the current state of Humanities departments… these ideas are informing our politics and shaping public opinion…and the political and idealogical reactions to them (on the right)…for better or worse.

So does Donoghue have a solution?:

“In his preface, Donoghue tells us that he will “offer nothing in the way of uplifting solutions to the problems [he] describes.” In the end, however, he can’t resist recommending something and he advises humanists to acquire “a thorough familiarity with how the university works,” for “only by studying the institutional histories of scholarly research, of tenure, of academic status, and . . . of the ever-changing college curriculum, can we prepare ourselves for the future.” “

Not really, though what he does offer seems practical.

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As mentioned:  I have some doubts about Fish’s larger interpretation of affairs…a tendency to view the arts, humanities, and philosophy itself through a certain lens.  (Fish teaches a course on conservative philosophy..hopefully in the better sense of that word…conservare…).

See Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum saw this coming a while ago, but is her platform broad enough?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment