Thursday, January 10, 2008
Fish, Stanley. "Will the Humanities Save Us?" NEW YORK TIMES January 6, 2008.
How does one justify funding the arts and humanities? It is clear which justifications are not available. You can’t argue that the arts and humanities are able to support themselves through grants and private donations. You can’t argue that a state’s economy will benefit by a new reading of Hamlet. You can’t argue – well you can, but it won’t fly – that a graduate who is well-versed in the history of Byzantine art will be attractive to employers (unless the employer is a museum). You can talk as Bethany does about “well rounded citizens,” but that ideal belongs to an earlier period, when the ability to refer knowledgeably to Shakespeare or Gibbon or the Thirty Years War had some cash value (the sociologists call it cultural capital). Nowadays, larding your conversations with small bits of erudition is more likely to irritate than to win friends and influence people. At one time justification of the arts and humanities was unnecessary because, as Anthony Kronman puts it in a new book, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, it was assumed that “a college was above all a place for the training of character, for the nurturing of those intellectual and moral habits that together from the basis for living the best life one can.” It followed that the realization of this goal required an immersion in the great texts of literature, philosophy and history even to the extent of memorizing them, for “to acquire a text by memory is to fix in one’s mind the image and example of the author and his subject.” It is to a version of this old ideal that Kronman would have us return, not because of a professional investment in the humanities (he is a professor of law and a former dean of the Yale Law School), but because he believes that only the humanities can address “the crisis of spirit we now confront” and “restore the wonder which those who have glimpsed the human condition have always felt, and which our scientific civilization, with its gadgets and discoveries, obscures”. . . . Read the rest here: http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/06/will-the-humanities-save-us/.