And a great clamor went up

I have too many thoughts in my head, some of them need to come out. In the last several days, I have heard papers on magnificence and monsters, statues and stuff, teaching and the trivium, and then some, all of them now swirling around in my head in a great maelstrom of equal parts inspiration, impatience, and fury, while I wonder how on earth I will ever have time to write even a fraction of the things that I can imagine myself wanting to write, never mind say. My voice is so tired after all of the conversations that I have had when not listening to talks, I know that I have been pushing it too hard. Pushing and pushing and pushing, wanting to shout so many things that I want people to hear and having no way to magnify my voice enough to drown out the nonsense that I hear other people saying.

I don’t know which annoys me more. All the limp and ultimately self-destructive arguments about why we should teach the humanities (as if teaching the arts of expression and thought should need justification in the way that building another shopping mall does). Or all the anxious attempts to make our work "edgy" that do nothing more than expose our own edginess about the work that we do. Or all the safe scholarship in which we are ever so careful not to offend, never mind to risk seeing something that we cannot strictly speaking "prove” and yet upon which true flashes of understanding must ultimately depend. Answer, of course: all of the above, and then some.

I wish I had a megaphone and could stand on a mountain top screaming: "Stop being such sheep! Stop bleating together all the time and just listen to what you are saying! Do you realize how much you are parroting the conversations we’ve been having since even before I was born, and yet how all of the categories that you are thinking through are themselves simply the sheep-bleat of modernity, afraid of itself, afraid of the possibility that the world may be even more magnificent as a creature of God than anything your safely secular categories of analysis could ever allow you to see? Don’t you know when you fall into arguments about experience or emotion over reason, you are simply repeating the Romantic myth of religion as grounded in feeling? That when you oooh and ahhh over 'materiality’ you are simply reproducing the nineteenth-century obsession with industry?”

But even if I could figure out some way to say these things so that they actually made sense (which I know they don’t as I have shouted them above), who would listen? I have been in academia long enough to know that there is nothing more appealing to many of my colleagues than an apparently self-explanatory and yet utterly contentless label. As every graduate student quickly learns, if you want to hear your colleagues catch their breath and see them nod sagely when you tell them what you are working on, never, ever suggest that you actually spend your time thinking about the difficulty of understanding a particular historical or aesthetic or intellectual event or artifact or question. Rather, say something like, "I am working on the 'body.’” Or "the 'social.’” Or "the 'marginal.’” Or "the 'material.’” This will make them breathless with wonder while at the same time doing nothing to challenge anything about the way that they see the world or to suggest that there is something valuable in what you are studying that it might actually be worthwhile for them to know.

No wonder we have so much trouble convincing our administrators to value what we do as scholars and teachers. We don’t value what we do ourselves. (Not, at least, in any way that we ever let the outside world see.) Instead, we spend all of our time trying to create new sensations that are themselves nothing more than a relabelling of the same old sensations--and sensationalism--that brought the arts of education crashing down with the birth of modernity’s tradition-defying self-satisfaction in the first place (a.k.a. the late nineteenth century). And what do we get? Look around. Yet more sheep repeating the nonsense we teach them.

Is it any wonder that it is so hard for us to try to convince them that there is more to the arts than their packaging?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Kalamazoo, MI


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