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Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Triumph of Vagueness

Calls for the renewal of the humanities, such as the one referenced in the previous post, first have to paint the situation as dire. The humanities are in a bad shape.

The answer is always something interdisciplinary.  Individual fields are never interesting (English lit, philosophy, art history), only things that cross those boundaries. But why? My own research is interdisciplinary, and that is a good thing (I think), but I have zero interest in the vague promises that these approaches are supposedly offering. I am always interested in highly specific things (what the article cited calls the "esoteric."). The larger value of these works of art, music, or philosophy has to do with the intrinsic interest of the material, not its vague contribution to understanding "what it means to be human." I imagine in a course about what it means to be human nothing would actually be learned, because the entire premise is wrong. 

We should be orienting everything toward "democracy," or "the human condition." The value is always a pragmatic one (allegedly) of addressing The Problems Afflicting Modern Humanity In These Difficult Times.  But we never see what this actually looks like in real life. The pragmatic lesson always boils down to another vagueness, like "critical thinking" or "compassion."  

Now, I'm not knocking the value of democracy, citizenship, thinking, etc...  I just don't like that self  congratulatory tone of the whole thing. I don't think my being a compassionate person, to the extent I am, has anything to do with my profession as a literary critic or "humanist." Many of us poets and critics are plenty narcissistic, for example. You can also be a formidable intellectual in any field of inquiry, whether it is "humanities" or not. 

To propose a pragmatic approach to the humanities through an abandonment of the humanities themselves, that surely can't be the road forward.  


I think my interest in Bronk is that he is always calling bullshit on these things. Intellectual systems for understanding reality are just arbitrary categories we hold on to for dear life, he seems to be saying. I guess he is a philosophical poet writing about the human condition, but the human condition is that we don't know shit.  


Thomas Basbøll said...

It takes a discipline to read Proust. I suppose it takes an "interdiscipline" to read Deleuze's Proust and Signs. But I don't think that's what the ideologues of interdisciplinarity mean.

Leslie B. said...

Right, Thomas. Exactly.