Showing posts from April, 2013

Narrative Collapse and the Stink of Mortality

For several weeks various threads have been blowing about in the breeze.  One relates to a conversation I had with one of my younger colleagues, a newly minted Ph.D., whose something of an expert on critical theory and computer gaming.  Another relates to the problematic last unit of my Humanities 102 course, which focuses upon big ideas and values in Western culture.  And another relates to a book I've been reading, Douglas Rushkoff's Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now(Penguin, $26.95). 

Let's begin in medias res.  For years I've struggled to conceptualize the end of my Humanities 102 course.  Here's the problem: until you get to the 19th century it's dangerously easy to present Western culture as a dialectical zig-zag of corrections and reactions.  Artistically speaking, you might say that the West oscillated between Dionysian and Apollonian poles, with the Enlightenment eschewing Baroque excess and the Romantics rebelling against the sterile formal…

Should a Surgeon Read Shakespeare?

There's an exercise I use in the first-year seminar to introduce the aims of Liberal Arts education.  It's a subject we're required to address during the course.  Unfortunately, it's also a subject singularly devoid of interest to the average 18-year old.  So rather than preaching at them, I ask them to make a series of judgments in response to a hypothetical situation.  This exercise usually provokes one of the more interesting discussions of the semester.  We did it this morning and it proved no exception. 

The gist is this: I ask the students to imagine they are in need of a potentially life-threatening brain operation. The procedure requires an expert surgeon who has been extremely well-trained in a high-risk procedure. Because the stakes are so high, they are allowed to select the surgeon they want.  The final two candidates are exactly equal in experience and expertise.

The difference only arises when meeting the surgeons in preparation for making the choice. …