April 4, 2014

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Now Available: Rereading Goethe, Rethinking Culture

TheHumanities.com | Bookstore | by Gerald Peters

In this critical reading of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister novels, Gerald Peters re-evaluates Goethe’s “theory” of aesthetic self-fashioning, or Bildung, as an educational model for a modern capitalist meritocracy. Drawing on his background in autobiography studies and incorporating perspectives from anthropology, literary criticism, gender studies, performance theory, philosophy, and religious studies, Peters turns a personal reading of a once influential text into an interdisciplinary reflection on individuation and self-culture in America. Rereading Goethe, Rethinking Culture treats various aspects of human self-development—love, work, family life, social status—in relation to topics as diverse as initiation rites, physiognomy, secret and utopian societies, craftsmanship, popular culture, exteriority, and the human face. Written in the spirit of Goethe’s Bildungsroman, Rereading Goethe illustrates the power of a book to shape a life, demonstrating that Goethe’s philosophical novel of culture and self-development can still be used as a critical “lens” through which readers can re-examine their own cultural assumptions and “rethink” the choices they have before them.

This book is now available in our bookstore.

April 3, 2014

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Why is Academic Writing so Academic?

The New Yorker | Original Article | by Joshua Rothman

A few years ago, when I was a graduate student in English, I presented a paper at my department’s American Literature Colloquium. (A colloquium is a sort of writing workshop for graduate students.) The essay was about Thomas Kuhn, the historian of science. Kuhn had coined the term “paradigm shift,” and I described how this phrase had been used and abused, much to Kuhn’s dismay, by postmodern insurrectionists and nonsensical self-help gurus. People seemed to like the essay, but they were also uneasy about it. “I don’t think you’ll be able to publish this in an academic journal,” someone said. He thought it was more like something you’d read in a magazine.

Was that a compliment, a dismissal, or both? It’s hard to say. Academic writing is a fraught and mysterious thing. If you’re an academic in a writerly discipline, such as history, English, philosophy, or political science, the most important part of your work—practically and spiritually—is writing. Read More...

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March 27, 2014

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The Public Voice of Women

lrb.co.uk | Original Article | by Mary Beard

I want to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public. I’m thinking of a moment immortalised at the start of the Odyssey. We tend now to think of the Odyssey as the story of Odysseus and the adventures and scrapes he had returning home after the Trojan War – while for decades Penelope loyally waited for him, fending off the suitors who were pressing for her hand.​1 But the Odyssey is just as much the story of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope; the story of his growing up; how over the course of the poem he matures from boy to man. The process starts in the first book with Penelope coming down from her private quarters into the great hall, to find a bard performing to throngs of her suitors; he’s singing about the difficulties the Greek heroes are having in reaching home. She isn’t amused, and in front of everyone she asks him to choose another, happier number. At which point young Telemachus intervenes: ‘Mother,’ he says, ‘go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff … speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.’ And off she goes, back upstairs.​2 Read More...

Image Courtesy of Leader Nancy Pelosi (CC BY 2.0)

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March 20, 2014

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The Elusive Tagore

openthemagazine.com | Original Article | by Philip Nikolayev

Rabindranath Tagore, more than anyone else, represents Indian poetry to the rest of the world. He does so in an iconic, canonical sort of way, with works of Renaissance-like artistic versatility and with his stately good looks and air of gentle authority.

The first non-European to win the Nobel Prize, friend to William Butler Yeats and interlocutor to Albert Einstein, Tagore helped strengthen the intellectual bridge between India’s civilisation and the West’s. Yet his poetry, which is admittedly his primary accomplishment, remains elusive in the English language.

As someone who does not know Bengali, I often wonder: why does Tagore seem so untranslatable? I must assume that he is terrific in the original. It is impossible to believe that he, who is held as the greatest Bengali poet of all time, could merely be mediocre, even if the English translations often make him seem so. Why then has he never been translated in a way that even hints at good poetry, let alone anything outstanding? Read More...

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March 6, 2014

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What Does Literature Know?

3ammagazine.com | Original Article | by Michael W. Clune.

Alex Rosenberg’s diagnosis of the ills of the humanities is in fact aimed at literature departments, which he describes as suffering from “self-inflicted wounds.” But his confident attack on literary studies reveals a basic ignorance of the field. The one book he refers to as exemplary of the failures of literary research — Proust Was a Neuroscientist — was written not by a literature professor, but by a journalist subsequently discredited for plagiarism. Rosenberg’s claim that women and minority authors have shoved out the classics in English curricula is untrue in every department with which I am familiar. (We teach Phyllis Wheatly alongside Walt Whitman; Shakespeare’s stock has never been higher.) Finally, Rosenberg’s suggestion that humanities majors are in sharp and recent decline is misleading. While there was a big drop in the mid-seventies, for the past three decades the percentage of B.A.’s who receive English degrees has been stable. Read More...

Image Courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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February 27, 2014

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The Humanities and Us

city-journal.org | Original Article | by Heather Mac Donald

Don’t listen to today’s narcissistic academics—the West’s cultural inheritance is indispensable.

In 2011, the University of California at Los Angeles decimated its English major. Such a development may seem insignificant, compared with, say, the federal takeover of health care. It is not. What happened at UCLA is part of a momentous shift in our culture that bears on our relationship to the past—and to civilization itself.

Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton—the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements and replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing. In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent as to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton, or Shakespeare, but was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.” Read More...

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February 20, 2014

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Bambi’s Jewish Roots

jewishreviewofbooks.com | Original Article | by Paul Reitter 

On January 20, 1909, the Bar Kochba Association in Prague launched an ambitious program of “festive evenings.” The organizers hoped for an immediate impact, so they invited Martin Buber, whose cultural Zionism had been generating a great deal of excitement among Central European Jewish intellectuals.

Buber’s emphasis on education and inner self-development, together with his call for the recovery of subterranean Jewish forces and sensibilities, and his promise that this would equip Western Jews to have a key part in a larger, cosmopolitan project of rebirth, all resonated powerfully with Bar Kochba’s leadership. Indeed, in addition to paying tribute to Buber again and again, they kept inviting him back. It was as their guest that Buber delivered the addresses in his celebrated volume Three Speeches on Judaism. And it was enthusiasm like theirs that eventually led Gershom Scholem, who went through his own adolescent infatuation with Buber, to remark on the excesses of “Buberty.” Read More...

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February 10, 2014

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The History of Philosophy, from 600 B.C.E. to 1935, Visualized in Two Massive, 44-Foot High Diagrams

openculture.com | Original Article | by Josh Jones

The history of philosophy tends to get mightily abbreviated. The few philosophy professors I know don’t have much truck with generalist “history of ideas”-type projects, and the discipline itself encourages, nay, requires, intensive specialization. Add to this glib comments like Alfred North Whitehead’s on philosophy as a “series of footnotes to Plato,” and the eminent position of the erratic and comparatively philosophically-unschooled autodidact Wittgenstein, and you have, in modern philosophy, a sad neglect of the genealogy of thought.

But take heart, you who, like me, incline toward minor figures and obscure relationships. Ohio State professor of philosophy Kevin Scharp is a Linnaean taxonomist of thought, compiling charts, “Information Boxes,” and hand-drawn diagrams of the “Sociology of Philosophy,” like that above, which covers Western philosophy from 600 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. and shows the myriad complex connections between hundreds of individual philosophers and schools of thought (such as Stoicism, Skepticism, Neo-Platonism, etc.). Read More...

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January 30, 2014

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Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Jonathan Cott – Review

The Guardian | Original Article | by Jonathan Derbyshire

Moral seriousness and gossipy skittishness from the American intellectual.

A few months after Susan Sontag died in December 2004, the American literary academic and writer Terry Castle published a wonderful and amusing reminiscence in the London Review of Books of the woman to whom she'd intermittently played the role of "female aide-de-camp". Castle lives and works in California, and whenever Sontag was on the west coast to give a lecture she'd co-opt her friend as a kind of amanuensis-cum-tour guide and fixer. Castle was happy to play the role of "obsequious gofer" (she had "idolised Sontag literally for decades"), though at its best, she confesses, their relationship resembled the one between Dame Edna Everage and her permanently mournful sidekick Madge Allsopp. (You shudder to think what it was like at its worst.)

Castle would drive Sontag (pictured) between San Francisco and the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto. Her other job was to be a sounding board for Sontag's compulsive kvetching – about the "dreariness" of Castle's Stanford colleagues in particular and the provincialism of California in general. The latter was something of a specialist subject for Sontag, as her 1978 Rolling Stone interview with Jonathan Cott, published unexpurgated and at book length for the first time, makes clear. Read More...

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January 23, 2014

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Vehemence and Doubt: Dostoevsky Up Close and Personal

berlinbooks.org | Original Article | by Andre van Loon

What intellectual or moral use does it have to think about a writer’s life? Supposing mere fame and fortune are transitory vicarious interests, is it at the same time unrewarding to follow a writer through some of his or her days? We have the work, the text to read and academically treat, to intertextually reference in books, films or even YouTube ads, the words and ideas there at the beginning and at the end. Take Shakespeare, as many have done, as a prime example of why we can supposedly ignore what writers get up to. Little to nothing is known about the Bard as a biological and social fact in the world, about his life and career. What we do have from him, though, in terms of his artistic production, is often seen as all one could possibly wish for. And yet, there is something inextricably peculiar in arguing that not having that which we do not possess in the first place, whatever our opinion on the matter, makes us just rich enough. An absolute rejection of the unknown does not ultimately hold much persuasive power.

The impetus to know about a writer’s life becomes all the stronger when, rather than being unlikely to ever know more, we are instead faced with systematic attempts to obscure. The University of Toronto’s Slavic scholar Peter Sekirin, in compiling and translating around one hundred, rare first-hand accounts of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky’s life and career, is driven to allow as many illuminating voices to be heard as were suppressed during the Soviet Union. Read More...

 

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