Global Society, Empathy, Multiculturalism and Literary Study
Bérubé, Maurice. Beyond Modernism and Post-modernism: Essays on the Politics of
Culture. Westport: Bergin and Garvey, 2002.
Maurice Bérubé explains the shift in political activism of intellectuals in our society. He details the change from a modernist use of direct political action to the post-modernist emphasis on cultural politics.
Bérubé, Michael. The Employment of English. New York: New York UP, 1998.
Michael Bérubé discusses issues of the canon in the face of advocacy for a multicultural curriculum. He also explores the issues surrounding the merging or replacing of English departments with Cultural Studies departments. He explains how merging with Cultural Studies might make English a more pragmatic field for students. The book also details the treatment of graduate students and the job crisis in academia.
Delbanco, Andrew. “The Decline and Fall of Literature”. The New York Review of
Books. 46.17 (1999). The New York Review of Books. 22 March 2006 <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/318>
Delbanco briefly explains the history of literature in English as an academic discipline and then details some of the major issues facing the discipline today. He considers the impact of cultural studies, the depressed job market, and the increasing marginalization of and disrespect for English departments in our larger culture.
Eagleton, Terry. The Idea of Culture. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000.
Eagleton traces the history and etymology of “culture” as it has been used both in referring to civilizations as well as arts and literature. He then critiques cultural imperialism and hegemony. Eagleton also describes how various literary figures have interpreted “culture”.
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
Eagleton calls into question the definition of literature and goes on to explain how its definition has been socially constructed and therefore unstable throughout history. He argues that literature has been defined as such to serve specific political purposes. Eagleton then explains several common models of literary criticism.
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992.
Morrison traces what she terms the “Africanist” presence in American literature; that is, the constant referencing of black Americans in the white literary imagination. She argues that to ignore racial readings of white American literature is to miss an ever-present thematic feature that has shaped our national literature and therefore our national identity from America’s inception. The ideas of empathy and the narrative imagination are particularly relevant to Morrison.
*Nussbaum, Martha. Cultivating Humanity. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997.
Nussbaum argues for a strong broadly based education that teaches “Socratic self-examination” while preparing students for their role in an increasingly globalized world. She professes faith in a multicultural curriculum as a means for greater empathy and understanding. She also argues for rigorous enforcement of logical and argumentative skills as well as interdisciplinary, thematically organized courses.
*Readings, Bill. The University in Ruins. Cambridge: Harvard UP ,1996.
Readings explains the historical role of the university as the bearer of national values. He argues that the university has lost its central purpose as the nation-state has declined and that therefore, “culture wars” are battles whose purpose is rendered irrelevant. After an extensive look at the history and philosophy behind the modern university, Readings argues for a reconfiguration of purpose on university campuses.
*Steiner, George. “Humane Literacy”. Language and Silence: Essays on Language,
Literature, and the Inhuman. New York: Antheneum, 1967. 3-11.
Steiner questions the civilizing potential of literature in the face of the genocides and destruction perpetrated by the highly cultured in the twentieth century. He also highlights the importance of the literary critic in preserving art and offering a clear-headed vision of artistic meaning.
The Two Cultures: Humanist Studies and Science
Montello, Martha. “Novel Perspectives on Bioethics”. The Chronicle of Higher
Education. 51.36 (2005): B6. 15 May 2006. < http://chronicle.com.proxy-um.researchport.umd.edu/weekly/v51/i36/36b00601.htm>
Montello uses fictional works to exemplify the way in which literary studies are often more powerful bioethical barometers than are purely scientific arguments. In a time when policy decisions regarding science are deeply complicated, she argues for a literary perspective that demonstrates the human consequences and benefits of scientific discovery.
*Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures: and a Second Look. New York: The New American
Snow explains the deepening divide between humanist and scientific intellectuals. He contends that this gulf has resulted in basic illiteracy in all but one’s own specialties and that the educational system must broaden in order to bridge this gap.
*Splan, Laura. Home page. 15 May 2002. <www.laurasplan.com>
Splan’s visual art exemplifies the possibilities of the merging of art and science.
Communicating Our Purpose
Bell, David F., Russell A. Berman, Christina Crosby, Frederick L. De Naples, Janet
Hadda, Karen Newman, Randolph D. Pope, Elizabeth M. Richmond-Garza, Azade Seyhan, Haruo Shirane, H. Jay Siskin, Patricia A. Ward. “Why Major in Literature—What Do We Tell Our Students?” PMLA. 117.3 (2002): 487-521.
This series of essays allows professors to explain to their students and colleagues the purpose of literary studies in an environment in which both economic pressures and concerned parents often try to dissuade students from a degree in literature.
Menand, Louis. “Dangers Within and Without”. Profession. (2005): 10-17.
Menand defends literary studies from accusations of pretentious obtuseness, saying that literary scholars are as much entitled to theoretical complexity as are scientists. He also contends that many of the problems facing the humanities are the result of internal hand-wringing and excessive discussion of our insecurities as humanists, as well as our inability to clearly communicate our purpose.
Relevant Literary Works
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Modern Library, 1994.
Martha Nussbaum references Invisible Man in Cultivating Humanity as a window through white students can gain empathetic insight into a black American experience. Through their identification with the black protagonist, white students can begin to have an empathetic understanding of the devastating and destructive effects of racism.
McEwan, Ian. Saturday. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2005.
Saturday conveys the zeitgeist of the West since September 11, 2001. It also shows how art can treat science beautifully and meaningfully. The climax of the novel deals with the humanizing effects of literary study in perhaps an excessively optimistic way, but it does raise the question of whether the benefit of literary study occurs on a micro or macro level, or whether there is any benefit at all.
Milton, John. “Areopagitica”. John Milton: The Major Works. Eds. Jonathan Goldberg
and Stephen Orgel. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. 236-272.
Milton argues for the importance of literacy in this tract aimed at stopping government censorship of literary applications. He argues that only through extensive knowledge of both good and evil, obtained through reading, can a person truly exercise free will in choosing right over wrong. He contends that political freedom rests on intellectual freedom.
Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran. New York: Random House, 2003.
Nafisi details the power of literature as both an escape but also as a means of empowerment in a politically oppressive environment. She also demonstrates how the presence of an intellectual community offers women opportunities that are denied to them under an oppressive regime. Much like Milton, she argues against censorship of literature that might express “values” that differ from those of the surrounding society.
Whitman, Walt. “Leaves of Grass”. (1855) Poetry and Prose. Ed. Justin Kaplan. New
York: Library of America College Editions, 1996.
Whitman expresses a vision of the poet as a bearer of democracy as well as an empathetic spokesperson for a variety of oppressed peoples. Perhaps more than any other writer, Whitman believes in the transformative power of the written word.
Yeats, W.B. Yeats’s Poetry, Drama and Prose. Ed. James Pethica. New York: W.W.
Norton & Co., 2000.
Throughout his poetry, Yeats expresses concern over the power or powerlessness of the poet in the face of political crisis and suffering. He is constantly questioning the ethics of the artistic endeavor as opposed to direct action in the face of adversity. He also addresses the line between propaganda and art and the precarious balance the artist must find between narrow elitism and empty populism.
Birzer, Catherine Langrehr and Katherine Bailey Mathae, eds. Reinvigorating the
Humanities: Enhancing Research and Education on Campus and Beyond. Washington: American Association of Universities, 2004.
This booklet details recent efforts at universities across the country to maintain relevant humanities departments with high enrollment levels. It argues for stressing pragmatic applications of the humanities and advocates the expansion of interdisciplinary programs..
DeWilde, Michael. “The Business of the Humanities”. The Chronicle of Higher
Education. 51.43 (2005): B5. Academic Search Premier. 7 February 2006 <http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=17576424>
Pink, Daniel H. A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the
Conceptual Age. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.
Both Pink and DeWilde argue that the arts and humanities (respectively) are the fields of the future in the world of business. They believe that in the face of globalization and outsourcing, what businesses need more than anything are innovative, creative thinkers as well as people with strong communication skills and empathetic understanding of others, such as clients and foreign companies with whom American companies do business.
The Arts and the Public
Brustein, Robert. The Siege of the Arts: Collected Writings, 1994-2001. Chicago: Ivan R.
In this series of essays, Brustein confronts issues of government censorship of the arts and funding cuts. He argues in favor of stringent aesthetic standards and against what he sees as burgeoning identity politics in the art world. He then goes on to describe importance of specific plays and performances.
Evelyn, Jamilah. “A New Role for Culture and the Arts”. The Chronicle of Higher
Education. 51.10 (2005): B5-B7. Academic Search Premier. 7 February 2006 <http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=18703140>
Evelyn describes a new movement among community colleges to create arts centers that serve not only the college community but also serve as cultural centers for the surrounding community. In this way, community colleges enter the debate as to what community the arts in conjunction with the university are supposed to serve. This raises the question of responsibility of artists to society at large.
Ivey, Bill. “America Needs a New System for Supporting the Arts”. The Chronicle of
Higher Education. 51.22 (2005): B6-B9. Academic Search Premier. 7 February 2006 <http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=16015513>
Ivey argues that in the face of decreased governmental funding of the arts, artists and arts centers should embrace the privatized business side of the art world. He argues that the wider audience for the commercial arts does not have to mean lowered aesthetic standards.
The Arts and the University
Dempster, Douglas. “American Medicis: Training and Patronizing Professional Artists in
American Universities”. The Creative Campus American Assembly. Arden House, Harriman, New York. 11-13 Mar. 2004.
Dempster traces the history of art education within the university, placing particular emphasis on the importance of the master-apprentice relationship, even as the art world grows increasingly commercial. He therefore argues that universities have an obligation to serve as the art patrons of our times. He also supports the broad education of the artists in addition to strengthening technical skill.
Fendrich, Lauriel. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mess”. The Chronicle of
Higher Education. 51.39 (2005): B6-B8. Academic Search Premier. 7 February 2006 <http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=17295539>
Fendrich contends that studio arts programs are excessively focused on theory and ideas of self-expression and no longer are teaching the basic skills one needs as a working artist. She also argues that artists no longer see themselves as having a public responsibility (in part because the system of patronage no longer exists) and cultivate an image of themselves as outsiders rather than socially engaged citizens.
Freeman, Robert. “Thoughts on the Future of the Arts in the American University”.
Major University Presenters Symposium. Austin. 12 Apr. 2005.
Freeman argues that the main responsibilities of the university arts programs are to train audiences as well as artists, to employ contemporary artists, and to work to preserve the arts. He argues that the training of audiences is perhaps the most important thing that the universities can do in maintaining the arts as a vital part of the culture.