August 11, 2014

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In the Near Future, Only Very Wealthy Colleges Will Have English Departments

newrepublic.com | Article Link | by James Pulizzi

Within a few decades, contemporary literature departments (e.g., English) will be largely extinct—they’ll be as large and vibrant as Classics departments are today, which is to say, not very active at all. Only wealthy institutions will be able to afford the luxury of faculty devoted to studying written and printed text. Communications, rhetoric/composition, and media studies will take English’s place. The change isn’t necessarily an evil to be decried but simply reflects how most people now generate and read narratives and text—they do it on digitally based multimedia platforms.

Why should college students read narrative prose when they get their fill of stories from television, cinema, and interactive video games? Narratives currently live in many different media, and there should be nothing wrong with academics considering them alongside print narratives. Defenders of the traditional curriculum mostly believe students need to read these printed texts if they are to be truly educated, cultured members of our society. That’s the gist of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) and many an essay from right- and left-leaning critics alike, including Adam Kirsch’s recent essay “Technology Is Taking Over English Departments.”

The so-called culture war that raged around Bloom’s book through the 1990s amid concern that including the disenfranchised’s voices would dilute (white, European) culture has largely passed, and yet the anxiety about English and the humanities in general lingers.

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Image courtesy of MorgueFile / Sgarton

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July 1, 2014

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The Most Dangerous Book: the Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses

telegraph.co.uk | Article Link | by An Wilson

Can there ever have been a book with a more dramatic publishing history than James Joyce’s Ulysses – written in abject poverty and over a period of seven years during and just after the First World War; printed in Paris (at first, just two copies); vilified as obscene; burnt and impounded at British and American docks; and smuggled like forbidden hooch? (Amusing to read here of Ernest Hemingway’s part in the smuggling.)

Kevin Birmingham has a deep love of the novel, and knows everything about Joyce. His learned book is a gripping page-turner. Ulysses might have been indecent – if graphic language and an obsession with lavatorial and sexual functions is rightly so described. But, whether or not the book is indecent, the sheer decency of its early defenders will be what strikes the reader of this story.

There was demure English heiress Miss Weaver – who published early extracts from the book in an avant-garde journal, The Egoist, and gave Joyce £2,000 – a sum that provided him with an income of £350 (the equivalent today of £11,000). There were Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap in New York, whose Little Review published the first half of the novel in episodic pamphlets – until the notorious “Circe” episode was impounded by the authorities. There was the famous Sylvia Beach, proprietress of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, who published the first edition of Ulysses in book form. There was Arnold Bennett, a novelist of such a different complexion from Joyce’s, who could see, in an early review, that Joyce was “dazzlingly original. If he does not see life whole he sees it piercingly”.

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June 18, 2014

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Philosophy is a Bunch of Empty Ideas: Interview with Peter Unger

3quarksdaily.com | Article Link | by Grace Boey

Philosophy: you either get it or you don't. The field has its passionate defenders, but according to its critics, philosophy is irrelevant, unproductive, and right at the height of the ivory towers. And now, the philosophy-bashing camp can count a proud defector from the other side: Peter Unger, Professor of Philosophy at New York University, has come out against the field in his latest book, Empty Ideas: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy.

Unger has written extensively over the course of his career on various philosophical topics, and his best-known writings include Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism (1975) and Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence (1995). As a no-holds-barred critique of mainstream analytic philosophy, Empty Ideas is a continuation of Unger's signature provocative style.

As a former student of his, I spoke to Unger in late May about Empty Ideas, his thoughts on the value of philosophy, Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, David Lewis, and the difference between philosophy, crystal healing and self-help (the answer: nothing that important).

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May 30, 2014

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Buzzfeed’s founder used to write Marxist theory and it explains Buzzfeed perfectly

vox.com | Article Link | by Dylan Matthews

Buzzfeed has achieved an outrageous amount of success in recent years, reaching 130 million unique visitors last November (over four times as many as in November 2012). There are a lot of reasons for that but a major one is the site's remarkable talent at relating to people. Many of the site's pieces work by letting readers revel in shared traits or experiences: "35 Signs You Went To A Liberal Arts College In The Early ’90s"; "19 Reasons We Are All Actually Every Single Disney Character"; "26 Struggles Only People With Small Bladders Will Understand." "Nobody wants to be a shill for your brand," former Buzzfeed chief creative officer Jeff Greenspan once told New York Magazine for a profile of the company's founder, Jonah Peretti. "But they are happy to share information and content that helps them promote their own identity."

So where did Peretti get that idea? Peretti's academic writings offer one clue. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 1996, Peretti published an article in the cultural theory journal Negations entitled "Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution." After the paper was mentioned in New York's Peretti profile, Critical-Theory.com's Eugene Wolters read through it, and found that it more or less lays out (and critiques) Buzzfeed's entire business model—a full decade before the company was founded. Read more...

Image courtesy of International Institute of Social History

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May 21, 2014

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New Journal Issues Now Available from The Humanities Collection

Bookstore | The Collection | New Directions in the Humanities

We are pleased to announce the publication of the following issues.

These issues are now available through our online bookstore. Participants of the 2013 conference and 2013--2014 Community Members may download full-text articles for free by logging in to CGPublisher.

These issues feature the following articles...

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May 1, 2014

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The Glory that was Greece, the Grandeur that was Rome

http://harvardreview.fas.harvard.edu/ | Original Article | by J. Kates

The other evening, sitting with friends, literate professional writers of my own generation, discussing boundaries between history and fiction, I made a reference to the ambiguities of Thucydides’ invention of historical speechifying. Suddenly, my table-mates looked at me as though I had sprouted a not particularly attractive horn. Thucydides! Where did that come from? A great gap seemed to yawn between what used to be called the Ancients and the Moderns, with the Ancients consigned to the “classics,” which are presumed to be in decline, and the Moderns content to talk about memoir workshops. At this point, I might be expected to bemoan the bemusement of my colleagues. But that bemusement is part of a conversation, not the end of one. There is no decline, and no lack of engagement, as Mary Beard demonstrates triumphantly in her collection of essays and reviews, Confronting the Classics (Liveright, 2013).

To put this as crisply as I can, the study of Classics is the study of what happens in the gap between antiquity and ourselves. It is not only the dialogue that we have with the culture of the classical world; it is also the dialogue that we have with those who have gone before us who were themselves in dialogue with the classical world. . . . it is we who ventriloquise, who animate what the ancients have to say.”

Reader, I am no “Classicist.” Read more...

Image courtesy of Antonio De Lorenzo and Marina Ventayol / Wikimedia Commons

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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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