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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Justifying the Humanities

Reading Resina's article "Cold War Hispanism"--he says something to the effect that the role of the humanities is to justify themselves: "Could it be that the perennial crisis of the humanities is a trope for the inherent insecurity of this bundle of disciplines that exist, precisely, in and through the never-ending effort to legitimate themselves?" (emphasis added). This makes sense. Just as the "canon" only comes into view when it is a problem, the humanities only thrive in crisis mode, because they are the disciplines whose primary function is to confer value on their own subject matter, to certify and credentialize forms of cultural capital. "Prove that what you are studying is worth while." "Justify your own existence." No wonder we are so defensive! Now I am understanding why nationalism is so strong in the humanities. That is a default justification.

This also explains why the default mode of the humanities is the weak leftism of cultural exceptionalism. That requires a whole 'nother post to explain. Briefly, we are the dominated part of the dominating class, as Bourdieu points out.


I can argue for Lorca's relevance through Spicer or O'Hara, Ginsberg or Duncan, or even Billy Strayhorn. But of course that is already assuming the value of these American figures.


Anonymous said...

So irritating that that Spain beyond Spain book is out of print. We do not have it so one would have to buy (I can explain why this is cheaper than ILL).

There is much else I like in that Resina piece but I have never related to the crisis talk, never doubted value of field and so on.

People need to realize that it is not just literature, or humanities, that are the dominated -- it is science too, anything that is not R&D, health industry, education industry, or straight-up recreation and decoration, is an oppressed discipline because it is intellectual; talk to people in Math and they have got issues the way people in English and Spanish do. I am tired of humanities hand wringing and the exceptionalism of *academic disciplines.*

Jonathan said...

I agree that the crisis talk is silly most of the time. Resina's point here is not saying we are in a crisis, but that the crisis-talk relates to issues of legitimation. With that much I agree.

Anonymous said...

Je suppose but I still say: backbone, people, backbone.

Andrew Shields said...

Did I miss that "whole 'nother post" about "why the default mode of the humanities is the weak leftism of cultural exceptionalism"?

Cuz I'd love to read that.