Showing posts from June, 2013

Proposing Frankly...

Anyone who's read this sucky old blog for a while knows that I'm a bit decadent when it comes to aesthetics.  My essential orientation can be found in Walter Pater's statement that "art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake."  

Even so, I'm more than happy to acknowledge the coherence of socio-political schools of thought (Marxist, New Historicist, et. al.).  Hell, they're fine as far as they go, even if a bit dreary and predictable.  Besides, it's not their practioners' politics I object to.  It's their taste.

I'm a bit less amenable to those apologists who attempt to justify the Humanities as something with practical or "real world" value.  And it seems we're at it again.  The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has just released its report on the urgent need for Humanities education in the 21rst Century.  Entitled The …

Five Random Moments

Here are five moments from the past week:

Moment 1: I'm reading Mark Edmundson's Poetry Slam, a 6,000 word Harper's essay, which--depending on your point of view--was either a lament or a slap down of contemporary poetry.  I tended to read it as a cri de coeur for poets to think big.  Edmundson's central complaint concerns timidity and work that hedges, undercuts, pulls back and tries to have things both ways.  It is a poetry forever reluctant to make a bold, universal claim.  In a comparison between Yeats and Heaney, for example, Edmundson notes that you may have agreed with Yeats, you may not. But Yeats never hedged.

At the essay's conclusion, Edmundson writes,
I often think that our poets now write as though history were over and they were living in a world outside collective time.  They write as though the great public crises were over and the most pressing business we had were self-cultivation and the fending off of boredom.  Many of our poets are capable of w…

Fumbling in a greasy till

Google image search the phrase "creative genius" and, other than some stock images and clip art, you'll find a picture of Steve Jobs.  In fact, you have to scroll deep--very deep--on the page before you see an image of an actual artist, musician or poet (in this case, Picasso).  
There's no way to know for sure, of course, but my hunch is that this would not have been the case 40-50 years ago.  Had you asked the average person-on-the street in 1963 to name a creative genius, you likely would have heard the name of a painter or a poet.  Today it's Jobs, Gates, maybe Zuckerberg.

Or let's pose this little thought experiment.  The English poet Gerard Manly Hopkins wrote verse of astonishing creativity.  As a Jesuit priest during the Victorian Era, he struggled against his artistic inclinations and battled depression.  He also died young and never intended his work to survive him. A few friends and fellow poets recognized his genius, however, and posthumously kept…

Cream and Bastards

Well I'm teaching core capstone for the last time again.  I thought I was done with it this past December, but I had a section to cover this summer, so there it is.  Core Capstone (for MFS readers who may be unfamiliar with it) asks students to assess the meaning, value and use of their liberal arts education.  They read and debate various ideas on what it means to be a well-educated citizen and what such people owe--if anything--to their society.

Last week we waded through Plato's Apology and Crito, and then dipped into Martha Nussbaum's Not for Profit.  Echoing Socrates, Nussbaum argues that citizens skilled at thinking for themselves will operate without a default trust in authority.  They will question all assumptions, think for themselves and accept only those ideas that meet their reason's demand for consistency, logic and evidence.  Ultimately, she argues, such people strengthen civic institutions. They are good for society.  Indeed, democracy can't exist w…