what books do

In first year uni philosophy, one of the essays we read was titled – does literature humanize? I went on to study literature for four years, and since then – decades ago – the question of the role of literature, now in our culture almost entirely sidelined, niggles.

In this video is a case for what literature does from the School of Life, and below are pulled quotes done by Brain Pickings. Reading literature opens new worlds, makes us sympathetic and human, offers comfort and companionship, and confirms the fragility and imperfection of life. This is a list based on the idea of the consolations of philosophy – a very powerful and necessary truth.

I also think that literature has a macro effect that isn’t as evident in this consolations view. For instance, could we say that as a humanizing agent, literature – and the humanities at large – is our most significant defense against intractable fundamentalisms and ideologies of control? I think so. Do we want a strong stand against the reductive teachings of some preachers, MBAs, cults, CEOs, mullahs, mobs, clubs, and isms? Try an educated population.

Literature frees us, yet some of the deans of our universities want to get rid of it, either because they don’t see the connection, or they’re not interested in the kinds of freedom the humanities engender and sustain.

Video above (duh) and the pulled quotes here:

    It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver — because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator — a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.

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to get by or to thrive
April 12, 2014, 2:38 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

There are three kinds of people in a world set up for only two kinds: money people, service people and artistic people in a money and service world. No provisions are made nor needs required for the artistic in this world so if you’re artistic you are in a real limbo. But mere work and mere survival shouldn’t be enough; meaning counts a lot and artists contribute meaning. The choice is ours, to get by or to thrive.

From an article by Garry Gutting:

This talk of “a subject they love” brings us to the real crisis, which is both economic and cultural (or even moral). The point of work should not be just to provide the material goods we need to survive. Since work typically takes the largest part of our time, it should also be an important part of what gives our life meaning. Our economic system works well for those who find meaning in economic competition and the material rewards it brings. To a lesser but still significant extent, our system provides meaningful work in service professions (like health and social work) for those fulfilled by helping people in great need. But for those with humanistic and artistic life interests, our economic system has almost nothing to offer.

The Real Humanities Crisis, By GARY GUTTING




the life of the mind is good for all of us
November 4, 2013, 5:18 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

J. M. Coetzee’s remarks on the decimation of the idea of the University over the past 40 or so years. He says we must resist the idea that the humanities are good for improving the population’s skills and argues that they are essential for their own sake, for their ability to make a rich and just and social life. The article is linked below.

At the beginning of his letter, he agrees that there must be academic autonomy, but then asks a deeper question: without the humanities is it still really a university?:

Thank you for letting me see your essays on academic freedom in South Africa. The general question you address – “Is a university still a university when it loses its academic autonomy?” – seems to me of the utmost importance to the future of higher education in South Africa.

Hardly less important is the junior cousin of that question, namely: “Is a university without a proper faculty of humanities (or faculty of humanities and social sciences) still a university?”

Governments, once guardians of the common good and benefactors of a literate citizenry, have morphed into mere skills training schools made to meet the needs of the economy:

But South African universities are by no means in a unique position. All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.

You argue – cogently – that allowing the transient needs of the economy to define the goals of higher education is a misguided and short­sighted policy: indispensable to a democratic society – indeed, to a vigorous national economy – is a critically literate citizenry competent to explore and interrogate the assumptions behind the paradigms of national and economic life reigning at any given moment. Without the ability to reflect on ourselves, you argue, we run a perennial risk of relaxing into complacent stasis. And only the neglected humanities can provide a training in such critical literacy. Continue reading