Monday, January 28, 2008


  • Holy dunk, Phil! What in Hades where you (critical) thinking? You just kicked open the crypt! Let’s see what your critical tinkering (sorry, “thinking”) skills do for you now. Was that wise? (Whoops! Sorry, Phil. Try this: Ctrl-Alt-Delete). Sounds like someone might have had a bad experience a long time ago in an English composition class, yes? (Sorry, again. Try hitting Backspace). Maybe someone got stuck with a female graduate student who didn’t appreciate the fact that you were smarter than that bucket-head Bill Gates? (Ctrl-Z that one, eh? Phil?) Come to think of it, I’ll bet you’ve already committed to (critical) memory every word Bill has ever uttered, yes? Phil, here’s the big clue you’re looking for: it was Gates and his fellow techies (laughing all the way to the bank) who made sure that technology invaded and dominated our kid’s classrooms K-12. Do you remember the old adage, “garbage in, garbage out?” Well, guess what? The chickens have come home to roost. You wanted solipsistic techno-Nazis? Well, you got ‘em. And, we in the Humanities have them too. Let me explain it to you this way, Phil: We can’t undo eighteen years of malformation anymore than you can. So don’t give us any of your crap about the Philosophy dept. (Cha! As if…!). We’re all in the same stinking boat. Take your technology god and your elitism and go piss up a rope.

  • My own work and teaching is mostly on the Great Books model. I frequently teach Aristotle. There is value in this. There is also value in the folks who do cultural studies and contemporary literature. We don't try to set the curricula in the sciences. It'd be nice if people like Phil would extend us the same courtesy. Just because he doesn't understand "post-modernism" doesn't mean its worthless or lacking in rigor. I don't understand network topology, but I don't dismiss its value. I'm not going to go so far as to say that the humanities have taught me to not be a smug jackass, because we certainly have our share of smug jackasses in the humanities, too. But it has taught me not to scorn what I don't understand. Oh Phil, really, where to begin? I don't think anyone said the SOLE purpose of humanities fields was to teach critical thinking. It's just one of the things that should arise from studies in these areas (and others). I'm all for teaching Aristotle's Poetics; when teaching the historical sweep of literary crit or theory, that's the starting point for most. When talking about tragedy and comedy in any era of the Western tradition, Aristotle is read or at least discussed. But seriously, Phil? You really sound like you don't know what you're talking about here. For realz, as the snowflakes say.

  • I'm not sure why I'm making this point, though. Phil doesn't believe in education; he believes in technical training. He does not want any useless humanities requirements to distract students from the pure pursuit of skills. That's fine, but the university is where we educate people and teach them not only whatever technical skills they may need, but also the broad expanse of humanities that will inspire and culture them.

  • So "some of the most uncritical thinkers" that old Phil has ever know have had "liberal arts degrees." Well, I find it hard to take criticism of my discipline seriously from someone who doesn't know that the liberal arts include the sciences. Grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy are the classical liberal arts, if memory serves. And I am pretty sure that memory serves.

  • As to the canon wars that Phil's post alludes to...step back, bitch. Or, better yet, go try and analyze anything written after Ibsen with the Poetics and see how far you get. But never mind, there's probably no point to reading anything after Ibsen, is there? It must be very comforting and safe to know that you have completely delimited the "great thinkers" of the past via the stereotypical dead white guy box. I'm glad that your foundations of culture are so stable that it's impossible for anything or anyone to trouble them.

  • Suggesting that those in the humanities (and, I assume, social sciences which is where I live) limit their subjects to the Enlightenment and anything prior is a bit like suggesting that computer science courses ought to stick to the classic Commodore 64 machine and Basic programming language. To some extent, we need and want to engage in topics of current relevancy - that can include things like pornography and postmodernism.

  • You know what? I’m an English professor, and I think you’re absolutely right. I think I’ll reduce my theory courses, even at the graduate level, to a discussion of Aristotle’s Poetics. That should neatly cut out all discussion of comedy, satire, and of course, as you’ve pointed out, pornography. On the other hand, we’ll still be able to discuss tragedy and epic effectively. “Tragedy makes us feel pity and terror,” I’ll say, “and epic is the highest literary form.” My students can all write papers indicating that they feel pity and terror when they read Lear, and that they understand Paradise Lost to be written in the highest literary form, and then we can all go home! Of course, we’ll have to give Twelfth Night and Gulliver’s Travels a miss, but really, if Aristotle didn’t mention it, of what possible use could it be?

  • Like most people who speak disparagingly of the "liberal arts," Phil presumably means "the humanities," which aren't as rigorous as he'd like. But he's importing his own notions of "rigor" into disciplines for which they are not applicable. Rigor in a computer science course is quite different from rigor in a literature course. I teach literature and very often I teach courses for non-majors. These are wonderful, for the most part. The students tend to be motivated and engaged. But there is always a sizeable minority who resent the class (fair enough) and that it isn't designed around "right and wrong" answers (fuck that). The biggest complaint from these students is that they don't see why they should have to formulate an argument about the material, why it isn't enough to simply say something that is "right." Because just being right is NOT rigorous thinking in the humanities.