Wednesday, March 31, 2010

oh, it makes me mad!

Imagine me sitting at home growling. Why am I growling, you ask? It's quite simple, really. Once again, I am questioning the purpose of the existence of academics and postgraduate students.

I went to a Postgrad Symposium for Humanities students today at the university I attend, Canterbury. Discussion: The end of the Humanities? (Literature, history, philosophy...)

It's disillusioning, you know, having to sit there listening to people who know how to talk the talk, know how to be provocative, know how to ARGUE - because that's what we "humanities" are good at - and disagreeing fundamentally with most of what is being said. According to one speaker, who is very eminent and very gifted and all that but who, I find, is on a completely different wavelength to mine, what the Humanities need to do to survive is to marry philosophy of the history of aesthetics with Darwinian psychology. Er, really? And how is your particular research interest, sir, practically supposed to work itself out? How exactly will this attract students? And how do you propose to make everyone think in the same framework?

Then you have to listen to people saying that maybe what the Humanities really need to do is to work out how to communicate to The Public so we can get more funding.

Or people saying that things have changed now and how worrying it is that modern third-year students refuse to read a 500-page novel for an undergraduate English paper; instead they'll just make something up when asked about it and it will sound okay.

And here is my opinion. (You knew that it was coming, right?)

The one thing I agreed on with the professor mentioned above was that the Humanities weren't killed; they committed suicide in the 70s and 80s. Suicide by deconstructionalism and postmodernism.

You want to know why the Humanities are disappearing from the priorities of government, university bosses and the public? It's because of cynicism. Cynicism created by academics whose sole purpose in life is to get more funding, like in the comment I mentioned above. More funding so they can put out more postmodern s*** that tells us that basically everything we do is meaningless and we can't ever know anything and "the fact" is an incredibly suspect idea. Cynicism created by departments like the English department at my university, who taught me so well that by the time I was in my final undergraduate year of my BA, I could churn out an English essay that I knew very well would get an A or an A+ because I'd figured out how to play the system; how to give the lecturers what they wanted, on questions I couldn't care less about or giving answers I fundamentally despised. You are taught very well by the Humanities, taught how to appear rebellious or original or boundary-pushing but how to all say the same thing, or how to all agree with your lecturer.

The only reason I didn't become completely disillusioned with the Humanities was that I had a history lecturer who cared very, very much about his topic and what he was teaching. I got idealistic. I became convinced that History is important, that it matters, that the memory of things like Stalin, the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisitions, et cetera NEED TO BE PRESERVED. We must know why people did these things or put up with these things. We must keep our portrayal of our history honest. It won't necessarily regulate our own society today but we must try.

The Humanities must become humanitarian. We must care about what we study, we must let it affect our lives today, we must communicate this passion to our society. People want to care about what they do. They don't want to sit there listening to some angry, bitter lecturer deconstructing their favourite novel into a morass of constructs. What they want is something that matters.

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