So, several things came rushing to mind upon reading the above article, but I certainly don’t mean to try expressing all of them here. I was struck most poignantly by the final two paragraphs…these two statements, really:
When asked by one audience member how those attending could better “sell the humanities,” Edward Hirsch, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, chafed. “We are advocating on behalf of a certain way of thinking,” he said. “Our job is not to sell something. It’s to advocate for something that can’t be sold.”
Get over yourself, buddy…as long as you accept living in the the most capitalist society on the planet, you’ll need to appreciate that those in power think everything that’s important and worth their attention can and should be sold. this is not to say I agree with the capitalist’s line of thinking (and my rants against capitalism will be reserved for another time). I’m simply noting that if you’ve gone to the extent of conferring on the topic of the future of your discipline, you ought to understand the importance of audience centeredness. I mean seriously, did you not see how quickly composers were marginalized and their work ignored when they declared “fuck the audience” in the mid-twentieth century?
To his credit, at least he acknowledged a problem:
(Hirsch), and others, noted that materialism and economic gain had become the prevailing ethos in American society, and that those working in the humanities were trying to swim against that tide.
So, too, are humanists swimming against a tide of abbreviated and divided attention spans, added Kwame Anthony Appiah, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. “We have a hard time making complicated arguments,” he said. “Our temperament of mind is not designed for speaking to a world that has decided that 15 seconds is the longest period of time an answer deserves.”
To this I say, embrace the importance of the “elevator speech.” Appreciate the concept of “hittin’ it and quittin’ it.” Do you have copious amounts of spare time time in your life to listen to protracted arguments when you know someone is simply trying to get something out of you? Even in your loftiest vision of yourself, aren’t you compelled to want to read “the pitch” at the beginning of solicitation letters you receive annually from countless non profit organizations who possess your mailing address? Embrace the tweet, my dear colleagues–many a prescient, moving, and astoundingly meaningful statements have been made in 140 characters or fewer.
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.
A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
OK, I cheated a bit on that last one, as it’s not really a quote but a book everyone at that conference should read and commit to memory when preparing to make a case for practical meaning of humanities-based disciplines. Among other things those who are truly interested in making a case for the importance of humanities disciplines are:
a fantastic blog post from November 2010 by Zac Bissonnette in the New York Times blog “The Choice.”
another fantastic blog post by a friend and colleague about Arts majors and transferable skills.