We resume our series on National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach for what appears to be a preview of coming attractions. Leach has posted comments for the November Humanities Symposium to be held under the auspices of NYU’s Brademas Center in Florence. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the highlights selected by Chairman Jim himself:
“The irony is that one of the oldest queries in education – the role of the humanities – is one of the most urgent today. Appropriately, New York University, and its Brademas Center for Study of the Congress, is leading an effort to reinvigorate this inquiry.”
The irony is actually the misuse of the word “irony.”
“One of the myths of our times is that the humanities are impractical, of little relevance to the challenges either of job creation or national security. Actually, studies in the humanities are not only relevant but central to understanding a world in which change and its acceleration characterize the times.”
Has Leach refuted the myth? Actually, no. He has vaguely contradicted it, but internal evidence suggests that pretentious writing and sloppy thinking have mounted their own challenges to “job creation” and “national security.”
“We cannot compete in our own markets if we don’t understand our own culture and its enormous variety of subcultures, or abroad if we don’t understand foreign languages, histories and traditions. We cannot understand our own era and the place of our own values if we don’t study the faith systems of others. And we cannot adequately instill a sense for the creative process if art making and art appreciation are not valued and taught.”
We cannot understand a damned thing through the fog.
“Rote thinking is the hallmark of the status quo. Assuming there is some validity to Einstein’s observation that imagination is more important than knowledge, the question becomes how to cope with the unprecedented and manage change by nourishing a capacity to think outside the box.”
With the invocation of “rote thinking,” we find ourselves traveling an infinite Escher loop. I prefer not to take advice on thinking from anyone who uses the phrase “think outside the box.”
“What better way is there to stimulate the imagination and apply perspective to our times than to study prior times? What easier way is there to put a person in the shoes of another and get a sense of how to write well and communicate effectively than to read great literature? What profounder way is there to think critically and understand political and social conditions than to ponder philosophical traditions from ancient Greece, China and the Indian subcontinent to the Enlightenment, 18th Century revolutions, and the challenging ‘isms’ of the last century?”
Resorting once again to internal evidence alone, one would conclude that there must be a better way. Leach continues:
“History, literature, philosophy and related disciplines provide reference points. They give context and ethical perspective to problems in the communities in which we live and life on the planet.”
Wait! There is more:
“The insights provided by humanities disciplines and the judgmental capacity to analyze, correlate and express developed in humanities studies are not dismiss-able options for society; they are essential to revitalizing the American productive engine and critical to understanding the geo-political challenges of the day.
“Humanities disciplines”? “Judgmental capacity to analyze, correlate and express”? “The American productive engine”? I forgot to preface these quotation with a notice of the hazard. Warning: Reading this may kill brain cells.