Why Should You Read Poems, Prose & The Great Works, Anyways?

Whitney Sha at The Point: ‘Subjectivity and Its Discontents

‘This conclusion is rarely discussed on a systematic level, although humanists have proposed individual responses to it. Some, for starters, play the “no true humanist” card: there may be bullshit in some humanistic disciplines or by some humanists, but real work in the humanities is just as rigorous and legitimate as work in the sciences. Classicist and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, for example, has accused literary scholar Stanley Fish of radical relativism and gender theorist Judith Butler of deliberate obfuscation; philosopher John Searle has combed through Jacques Derrida’s work to reveal that, for all its ambition and difficulty, it is ultimately “unintelligible.” If Fish and Butler and Derrida have somehow failed in their charge as humanists, then the humanities as a whole don’t have to be responsible for justifying their work.’

I suspect the search for deeper metaphysical and epistemological grounds in the humanities will always be afoot, be they ‘postmodern’ or otherwise.  Simply reading texts is probably not enough for quicker minds, which often seek deeper truth and knowledge claims to anchor thought and so often, reinforce behavioral norms.  The ‘why’ questions will nag and often coalesce into higher and competing spires, especially upon university grounds.

On this site, see:

A more religious defense (Roger Scruton) of why you should read great works and the religion-sized-hole-filled by-Marxism-approach (Terry Eagleton) mirroring many downstream debates occuring within the British political economy.

A particularly British affair (hopefully the centuries of stratification support a deeper Marxism on that side of the pond):

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Art, iconography, art education, culture, feminism as well as 60’s cultural revolution radicalism and deeply Catholic impulses?:Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

What have I gotten wrong, here?: Jordan Peterson deploys Jungian metaphysics, downstream of Nietzsche, to make knowledge claims which challenge Blackmore’s reasonably pedestrian modern materialism and atheism.

In other words, Peterson’s defense of Jungian archetypes, including those potentially found in the Bible (and perhaps viewed from the depths of Nietzsche’s nihilism), might connect with biology more profoundly than Blackmore’s psychological materialism might have been able to address.

Nihilism is an interesting epistemological ground out of which to make knowledge claims of transcendant objects, or at least, out of which to synthesize biological knowledge and knowledge claims which align within the burgeoning field of neuroscience.

The desire each of us seems to have for transcendence, wisdom and stories (especially kids) within the subjectivity of our own lived experiences, the deeper hopes and beliefs which seem ever-present (if not consciously realized) in our waking lives, the relationships with loved ones which inform, and probably ought to inform our moral judgments and moral thinking, might align with Jungian archetypes, Greek myths and the King James Bible, and thus some sort of Nietzschen nihilist denial of objective reality or the structure of the material world explored by the sciences…or…they might not.

A return to Straussian neo-classicism?: From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Harvey Mansfield At Defining Ideas: ‘Democracy Without Politics?’

Neo-neo conservatism, new atheism and post socialism for the ’68ers? Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Full post here.

Saving the humanities from some humanists, anti-humanists, ideologues and people who understand too little and expect too much of both the arts and the sciences?

A brief response by our author to this NY Times Op-Ed piece:

“Graduate education in the humanities may have its problems, but don’t try to tar science with the same brush.”

and:

“The humanities aren’t sciences, they don’t solve problems like sciences, and they shouldn’t try to be sciences.”

Is the public lens currently being focused on the problem in a way that does justice to neither the humanities nor the sciences?

Here are some links gathered over the years:

1. Lots of people invested in ideology will naturally seek to extend their ideological commitments, worldview, and beliefs into the books they read (including this blogger?).  What are you hoping to get out of that book in your hand?: Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’…

2. Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities, via a lot of German philosophical idealism Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgmentbut some German influences may come with other problems.

“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.”

3. Keep politics (add: and business) out of academia, when you can?-Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

4. Strauss and the Straussians-Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom…Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

5. Just read for its own sake, man, it doesn’t need an endpoint, because art’s pretty useful and useless: Why Should You Get A Liberal Education? From The ASAN Institute Via Vimeo: ‘Michael Oakeshott’s Cold War Liberalism 1’

6. 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’

A Link To C.P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’

Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’

My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.

On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.

Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams.  The radical pose will be with us for a while.

Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.

You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.

There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.

Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:

M.H. Abrams here.

“…in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”

Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?

In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?

As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read.  It’s all just an author’s “stuff.”  Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:

Addition:  Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Via The Washington Post: ‘D.C. Schools Chancellor Bats Away Calls For Resignation After He Sought Special Treatment’

As I see things, by the time institutional rules are being written and enforced not by those with the most talent, making the most sacrifices, with their own skin in the game (the people whose habits, skills and resources you most need), but by secondary and tertiary actors pursuing their interests, there is already a lot of rot.

Public institutions and political parties, at any given time, are full of a lot second- and third-raters, and a lot of rot.  Even among talented people, meaning well and making serious sacrifices, you’ve got to get the incentives right to keep hope of competency and to stay ahead of the rot.

In a voluntary system, the people whose habits, skills and resources you most need often are often the first to flee from the institutions charged with public obligations if they have the resources to do so (it’s not merely a matter of race, but the pursuit of rational self-interest and basic human nature).

Cities are places of serious freedom, competition and inequality.

In inner city schools, particularly, the social problems are often so grave there is little hope, but the below may be a special indicator of rot:

Don’t forget:  It’s the kid ready to learn, eager to engage, with some care and concern for his/her natural gifts who most loses out amongst kids who are maladjusted, acting-up, potentially violent, and who place no internalized value on learning.

It doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t have some moral obligation to our fellow citizens, but I think it does mean that we all need the freedom to discuss the rules governing our interactions with our fellow citizens, and the kinds of arrangements into which we choose to enter. These are reciprocal relationships full of hopes, ambitions and dreams.

Wouldn’t you want as much?

May you let others be free to do as much.

As previously posted:

Full post here.

‘Rhee believed that mayoral control gave her the power to work her will and to ignore dissenters or brush them off as defenders of the status quo. Mayoral control bred arrogance and indifference to dialogue. She didn’t need to listen to anyone because she had the mayor’s unquestioning support. Mayoral control made democratic engagement with parents and teachers unnecessary.’

Diane Ravitch seemed to think that Michelle Rhee didn’t allow the people who need to ulimately take control of their own lives do so…which is why she was voted out.

Yet, the endemic poverty and political corruption in D.C. has led to an untenable situation, not able to be solved by those who hold up ideals of democracy broadly either.

This is still not a reason to get into bed with the status quo, and all the political, ideological and monied interests involved who want to keep things as they are and get their share.

Judge the men of systems, moralizers, rationalists, idealists and utopians not by intentions, but by outcomes:

Also On This Site:  From Reason.Tv: ‘NBC’s Education Summit-Joe Trippi, Michelle Rhee & More’From The Washington Post: ‘D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee To Announce Resignation Wednesday’

Rhee stated much the same here:  She didn’t with the people who I are most involved…Michelle Rhee At Newsweek: “What I’ve Learned”Repost-’Too Much “Quality Control” In Universities?’

Robert Samuelson Via Real Clear Politics: ‘Why School Reform Fails’From The Bellevue Reporter-Walter Backstrom’s: ‘Educational Progress And The Liberal Plantation’

Walter Russell Mead has a series built upon the argument that the ‘blue’ progressive social model (building the Great Society) is defunct because America will have to adjust to new economic and global realities.   In the [then] current post, he focuse[d] on the part of the model that creates and directs government agencies to try and alleviate inner-city poverty and its problems for black folks.

‘This is one danger for the Black middle class and it’s an urgent and obvious one: the good jobs are going away — and they won’t be quite as good anymore.  The second danger is subtler but no less important.  In the past, government work served to integrate ethnic minorities and urban populations into society at large.  In the current atmosphere of sharpening debate over the role and cost of government, the ties of so much of the Black middle class to government employment may make it harder, not easier, for Blacks to take advantage of the opportunities that the emerging Red Age economy offers.’

A quote from John Locke, found here:

For wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer Justice, it is still violence and injury, however colour’d with the Name, Pretences, or Forms of Law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, War is made upon the Sufferers, who having no appeal on Earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such Cases, an appeal to Heaven.”

From Hit & Run: ‘School Choice and the Middle Class – Q&A with Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute’

Full post here.

‘Should parents who’ve already paid a premium to live in a good school district oppose school choice?’

Economic freedom meets economic segregation meets politics meets self-interest meets bureaucracy meets equality of opportunity…and everyone has a stake.

Also On This Site:  From Reason.Tv: ‘NBC’s Education Summit-Joe Trippi, Michelle Rhee & More’From The Washington Post: ‘D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee To Announce Resignation Wednesday’

Michelle Rhee At Newsweek: “What I’ve Learned”

Robert Samuelson Via Real Clear Politics: ‘Why School Reform Fails’From The Bellevue Reporter-Walter Backstrom’s: ‘Educational Progress And The Liberal Plantation’

and more broadly and philosophically:  Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Repost-From Scientific Blogging: The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not

From The Remodern Review: ‘The Death Of University Art Programs, Part 3: Ignorance As A Method Of Critique’

Full post here.

Hmmm…..

‘These endless deconstructive debates might not have done our art much good, but it was sure setting us up to take part in the approved modes of the establishment art world. They think if they pile enough words together, they can justify anything. However, they are profoundly wrong. Real art is self evident, and does not need to be propped up with a bunch of meaningless art speak.’

What I noticed in literature:  Most of the old-guard had higher standards and more rigorous methods.  They wanted closer readings and tended to set clearer expectations.  I suspect most thought they actually possessed both knowledge and wisdom and, frankly, they were there to impart both their knowledge and wisdom to us, the students.

‘What happened between them and me?’, I would find myself wondering.

As for the canon, there was the vague notion that it had been, no, still is, being dismantled.  Some deeper epistemic questions tended to hang in the air, put to students straightaway (how does anyone know anything, man? What does a Self do against Nothingness and the Void? how should I be a Creative Self?).

Ah, well.

Related On This Site:

Repost-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

-Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

As previously posted:

An old Heather MacDonald piece here (link may not last)

Oh, the humanity.

I agree that students, when facing a syllabus, shouldn’t also have to face the great books mediated, nor their young minds circumscribed, by overt political ideologies.

MacDonald:

‘In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare, but the department was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”

Upon hearing “gender, sexuality, race, and class,” I confess my head hangs down a bit and a sigh escapes my lips. Such a lack of imagination does great disservice to works of such powerful imagination.

Then again, I remember my last trip to Southern California (zing).

Of course, there still needs to be an intellectual framework and curriculum for the humanities.

—————–

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.”

Quite importantly:

“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.”

This is a matter of deep debate in our society right now.

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?

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…

Update & Repost-Louis Menand At The New Yorker: ‘Live And Learn: Why We Have College’

Full audio here. (around 5:00 min)

Is it just the humanities?  STEM seems to be doing ok, but how is our culture doing relative to others in a global marketplace?

Menand wondered in his then new book, why it often can take 9 years for a humanities PhD to get their doctorate.  He suggests part of the answer lies in the numbers:  fewer opportunities and fewer university programs since 1970.  Overtrained and underpaid.

Are we at the tail end of an age of exceptionalism…or egalitarianism…perhaps excessive egalitarianism?:

‘It wasn’t always like this. Before 1945, élite private colleges like Harvard and Yale were largely in the business of reproducing a privileged social class.’

and:

‘If there is a decline in motivation, it may mean that an exceptional phase in the history of American higher education is coming to an end. That phase began after the Second World War and lasted for fifty years. Large new populations kept entering the system. First, there were the veterans who attended on the G.I. Bill—2.2 million of them between 1944 and 1956. Then came the great expansion of the nineteen-sixties, when the baby boomers entered and enrollments doubled. Then came co-education, when virtually every all-male college, apart from the military academies, began accepting women. Finally, in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, there was a period of remarkable racial and ethnic diversification.’

Walter Russell Mead has some ideas.

As previously posted:

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian ne0-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

Related On This SiteFrom The New Criterion: ‘Higher Ed: An Obituary’,,,Ron Unz At The American Conservative: ‘The Myth Of American Meritocracy’

Analagous to old media? What to change and what to keepFrom The Arnoldian Project: ‘Architecture, Campus, And Learning To Become’

Should you get a college degree, probably, but you also probably shouldn’t lose sight of why you’re going and divorce yourself entirely from the cost:  Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?…Charles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational Romanticism……Repost-Too Much “Quality Control” In Universities?

A deeper look at what education “ought” to be:  A lot like it is now?: A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’