Friday, March 30, 2007

Marjorie Garber

Last night, I attended a lecture by Marjorie Garber. It was entitled “After the Humanities” and set forth a wildly ambitious plan for the future of humanities departments. As the title suggests, it starts with the provocative premise that the humanities, as a discipline, is over. The cultural moment that started with the professionalization of modern humanities programs at the end of the nineteenth-century ended in the last quarter of the twentieth. Amazingly, this idea was met by an audience of humanities grad students and professors not with the usual solipsistic self-pity that usually characterizes our lot and gets plenty of play in The Chronicle of Higher Education and, but rather with exhilaration and a sense that the bright future of a new, transdisciplinary humanities that is once again on equal footing with science in the university hierarchy is actually possible.

It would do the brilliance of her lecture injustice to try to summarize it here (ASU often posts these things online, so hopefully I will be able to put up a link to it soon), but I will focus on one point she made. She argued that there must no longer a separation between generalist and specialist and that we must all be generalists in order to be specialists. She spoke of the booming business of continuing education classes in the humanities for retirees. She told one story in particular of an alumni weekend where she was giving a full-day Shakespeare course and invited three of her graduate students to give talks on their dissertation topics. They were forced, for the first time, to explain their research to non-specialist audience and said it was a rewarding and enlightening experience.

That is what I wanted to do when I started this blog. I wanted to develop a fun, informal way of talking about literature and plugging it into my other interests. That is the reason for the country song of the week and the YouTube clips and, as I continue, I am going to try to bring in more of these interests, such as sports, film and television. One of my inspirations in this is Bill Simmons’ Sports Guy column at He combines a fun style with an almost scholarly interest in sports, particularly basketball, but has an enthusiasm that can’t be contained to just sports. I figure that doing this will infuse my scholarly work with the energy that is needed to discover true insight. Professor Garber’s lecture told me that this crackpot idea actually might actually have some worth. We’ll see.

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