What I think I see: It’s one thing to seek continued mass-market relevancy, fame and celebrity ($$$) for it’s own sake. It’s quite another to do so while claiming the mantle of rigorous scholarship, getting called-out for appallingly bad scholarship on-air.
The finest hypocrisy:
Naomi Wolf can’t possibly speak for all women (let alone all feminists), but her apparent impulse to discover injustice within the English Common Law Tradition and make a book-tour out of it, regardless of fact and evidence, is probably shared amonst many ideological cohorts.
The truth, apparently, is another matter.
I believe a lot of these problems can be solved by reading prose, novels and poems you like, regardless of the gonads of the author. Sometimes you go along to get along, sometimes you read someone speaking to your very core.
A lot of the problems of bad humanities scholarship can be solved by allowing the more rigorous scholars teaching the better poets and writers in our universities to rise, and not giving the fakers, ideological true-believers and bureaucrats any more influence than they already have.
The good books and classic utterances will continue their dialogue with the living, outstripping the needs, causes and casuistry of the moment.
What can’t last, won’t.
As for contrarian voices, on this site, see:
Camille Paglia has her own take, from 40 years spent within, and on the fringes of, American academia. This is quite a curious mix of 60’s radicalism, art theory, history and criticism, some political philosophy, pop culture and various other influences.
A body-positive, quite radical/anti-anaesthetic and associative Nietzschean feminist art historian (with deep Italian Catholic roots)?
Free Speech And The Modern Campus:
‘However, these boundary-dissolving expansions were unfortunately not the route taken by American academe in the 1970s. Instead, new highly politicized departments and programs were created virtually overnight — without the incremental construction of foundation and superstructure that had gone, for example, into the long development of the modern English department. The end result was a further balkanization in university structure, with each area governed as an autonomous fiefdom and with its ideological discourse frozen at the moment of that unit’s creation. Administrators wanted these programs and fast — to demonstrate the institution’s “relevance” and to head off outside criticism or protest that could hamper college applications and the influx of desirable tuition dollars. Basically, administrators threw money at these programs and let them find their own way. When Princeton University, perhaps the most cloistered and overtly sexist of the Ivy League schools, went coeducational after 200 years in 1969, it needed some women faculty to soften the look of the place. So it hastily shopped around for whatever women faculty could be rustled up, located them mostly in English departments at second-tier schools, brought them on board, and basically let them do whatever they wanted, with no particular design. (Hey, they’re women — they can do women’s studies!)’
Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.‘
Nicholas C Burbules on her book:
“Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.”
This has always struck me as a little too broad of a vision to maintain (too heavy on the gender and equality side of things, deep the shards of disruptive radicalism embedded),though I certainly respect the attempt. We should aim to be citizens of the world and in the best Aristotelian sense (such depth and breadth may be in fact necessary). But is it enough within this framework?
On that note, 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”
“…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 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.”
Much like Paglia…
Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.
Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?
Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds?:
Judgment, as Scruton points out, shouldn’t necessarily be subsumed to political ideology. I would agree, and I generally default in assuming that each one of us is the ultimate arbiter of our own judgment.
But, no man is an island.
Does Scruton’s thinking eventually lead us back to the problems that religion can have with artists and writers?
Is there anybody whom you trust to decide what you should and shouldn’t read?
Parents? Great authors? Public intellectuals? Professors? God? Laws and lawmakers? Religious leaders? A school-board? A democratic majority? People who think like you? A Council of Cultural Marxists?
The Department of Institutionalized Idiocy?
As to the policial/social climate, did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?
Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:
Robert Bork’s ‘Slouching Towards Gomorrah’ here. Bork died as of December 19th, 2012.
What did a man who eventually became an openly practicing Roman Catholic witness during the 60’s protests on campus?
Bork argues that during the 1960’s, likely starting with the SDS, a form of liberalism took shape that promotes radical egalitarianism (social justice, equality of outcomes) and radical individualism (excessive freedom from the moral and legal doctrines which require an individual’s duty and which form the fabric of civil society). This is the New Left.
Bork is quite explicit about the violence and threats of violence he witnessed, the barbarism on display, and the confused, tense years that unfolded (culminating in the Kent State debacle). He was one of two conservative law professors at Yale during the late 1960’s and he argues that events have rarely been represented accurately as he saw them. It is a personal account.
Related On This Site: Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’
Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’…Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’
…Peter Singer discusses Hegel and Marx…From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’