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11/13/2014

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I really hope I get time to write something on this.

AMDG

I mean comment here, not on my blog.

I'll read it either way.:-)

You mean, you will read it whether I write it or not? ;-)

If the latter, please send it to me after you read it and I will write it.


AMDG

Don't know if I have the technology for that, but I will if I can.

Aside from treating the humanities as "mere exhibitions and illustrations in the study, or rather the polemics, of race, gender, etc.", another thing making them irrelevant has been the overall dumbed-down or simply goofy approaches on offer for quite a while now. An example -- Why I Am Teaching a Course Called “Wasting Time on the Internet":

Come January, fifteen University of Pennsylvania creative-writing students and I will sit silently in a room with nothing more than our devices and a Wi-Fi connection, for three hours a week, in a course called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” Although we’ll all be in the same room, our communication will happen exclusively through chat rooms and listservs, or over social media. Distraction and split attention will be mandatory. So will aimless drifting and intuitive surfing. The students will be encouraged to get lost on the Web, disappearing for three hours in a Situationist-inspired dérive, drowsily emerging from the digital haze only when class is over. We will enter a collective dreamspace, an experience out of which the students will be expected to render works of literature. To bolster their practice, they’ll explore the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting, through critical texts by thinkers such as Guy Debord, Mary Kelly, Erving Goffman, Raymond Williams, and John Cage.

Nothing is off limits: if it is on the Internet, it is fair play. Students watching three hours of porn can use it as the basis for compelling erotica; they can troll nefarious right-wing sites, scraping hate-filled language for spy thrillers; they can render celebrity Twitter feeds into epic Dadaist poetry; they can recast Facebook feeds as novellas; or they can simply hand in their browser history at the end of a session and present it as a memoir.

I’ve never taught this class before, but I have a hunch that it’s going to be a success. For the past decade, I’ve been teaching a class at Penn called “Uncreative Writing,” where students are forced to plagiarize, appropriate, and steal texts that they haven’t written and claim them as their own.

How is this different from their day jobs?

AMDG

"Goofy" is almost a compliment. This strikes me as loathsome. The reasons would be difficult to articulate and I don't think I want to try.

You're right, “loathsome” is much closer to the mark. I guess I was mostly looking at it as being something totally nuts and out there. But it's worse than that, and maybe especially since it's considered acceptable at a school with such a fine pedigree.

The guests that I was talking about in the other thread, the Professors and their wives, were also talking about this aspect of the condition of the humanities the other night. It's almost better not to have them than to use them like that. I'm sure that somewhere on this blog I must have mentioned the B.Lit class I took a few years ago. It was almost all social commentary. Porphyria's Lover had something to do with class struggle. We read Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England, (not even written in English for goodness sake) and slave stories. No Austen, no Dickens, no Bronte. Some women I'd never heard of. It was tedious and vapid, and there was not a scintilla of wonder or enchantment. Surely this turns young people away from literature.

Another friend, who wasn't there that night, is a Professor at a very well-endowed college here. A third of that endowment came from a man who left the money with the proviso that they always have a program concerning Western Civ, the classics, etc.,and there was some emphasis on the Bible, I believe. So, they still have the program, and although my friend's classes would probably please this benefactor, most of the other professors use the texts to sneer at what the texts are saying.

Oh, and apropos of a former thread, one of my friends was saying, that in one of his classes at the U. of Memphis, a rather large class, he was asking the students about the family, trying to elicit some positive responses, and he said that no matter how hard he tried, he could not get one student to say anything in favor of marriage or the family. He said he thought this would not always be the case; however, I wonder if this might not have been when he first thought of retiring. It was like listening to the sheriff in No Country for Old Men.

AMDG

Your last image is chilling.

"...most of the other professors use the texts to sneer at what the texts are saying."

That's a big part of what's going on in a nutshell.

"I guess I was mostly looking at it as being something totally nuts and out there."

It is that, of course, and if it were just a lark I wouldn't react this way. I might even approve. Done in a different spirit, it could be a lot of fun, and maybe even worthwhile. But I sense some kind of meanness in it, and an underlying desire to destroy.

Well, I find what you are saying pretty chilling because that class is so inane and I think about the inanity of evil and Weston just sitting and saying, "Ransom" over and over again at intervals and sticking his nasty fingernails in the poor frogs backs.

AMDG

Students watching three hours of porn can use it as the basis for compelling erotica

Not if they haven't been taught how to write compellingly they can't.

It's a creative writing course, so I'm sure that can be taken for granted.:-/

And how did writing "compelling erotica" become an acceptable and encouraged pursuit at the University of Pennsylvania?

There's still a great distance between this guy and Weston, Janet, but there is definitely a similarity.

...a course called "Wasting Time on the Internet."

And at $64,200 per year, subtitled "Wasting Money on the Internet."


I've never taught this class before, but I have a hunch that it's going to be a success.

So do I--given the rather accessible standards for achievement, eg "Distraction and split attention," "aimless drifting and intuitive surfing," "digital haze," etc. I suspect there'll be a lot of A grades awarded in this class.

Congratulations to the esteemed Prof Goldsmith and U Penn for attaining the coveted status of Things That Cannot be Satirized...

I honestly don't understand how someone like Goldsmith can do what he does with a straight face. You can watch him in action in Sucking on Words, a 2007 film made about his work.

At the 8:40 point, he begins to explain and read from one of his books, No. 111 2.7.93 - 10.29.96. Make sure to hang on for a couple of minutes until he starts the reading -- it reminds me of some of Yoko Ono's recent performances. I always assumed she was probably close to barking mad, though.

I've clearly designed my American Literature syllabus all wrong, Janet. I've been trying to get them to discuss plot, narrative perspective, locations, movement and communication between locations (an aspect of plot which often seems much more detailed and explicit in American literature than in British literature, unless that's just an optical illusion on my part), evocation of sensory experience, characterisation (which can include markers of social and ethnic identity), dialogue (including the representation of non-standard speech, which again can include social and ethnic markers) and intertextuality (in the narrow sense of the presence of fragments or mentions of other works in the work at hand — such as Ichabod Crane owning Cotton Mather's book on witches). There was me thinking this would forward their understanding of American literature, when Americans seem to understand literature very differently.

Also rhythm, sound and imagery, but that so far just with regard to poetry.

It's beginning to seem to me that my colleagues in the Netherlands who teach commercial communication are more interested in the technicalities of using language for communicative, evocative and persuasive effect than many professors of literature in the US might be. But I suppose they're doing something that literature professors would think infra dig.

There are actually good teachers of the humanities out there, but you probably have to pick your school very carefully. I imagine there are some good ones struggling along in even in the more liberal schools. They're probably adjuncts. ;-) Well, my friend in the well-endowed college mentioned above is one of the good ones and he's even a tenured professor.

AMDG

Sorry to be mostly absent here--had to work yesterday, and also watch football. I hope to say more later today, but I'm sure there are lots of good teachers keeping the flame alive. Like you, Paul. And btw thanks for explaining "intertextuality"--I have wondered what that meant. Or, things being what they are these days, if it really meant anything.

Well, I have heard it used so loosely as to be effectively meaningless (all texts use words, so all texts overlap to some extent - so you end up with intertextuality meaning all texts are part of a single skein or soup).

Gary: "...the coveted status of Things That Cannot be Satirized." There are more and more of them. Someone pointed out to me recently a collection of stuff on Buzzfeed about gender, and much of it consisted of heavy sneering directed at the very idea that there are two sexes. One thing that's going on in all this is a deliberate, chosen darkening of the intellect, which I find very disturbing, and is part of the reason for my reaction to this guy's project.

Paul, your remarks about commercial language remind me of similar things I've heard about the art world: if you want to actually learn how to draw, go into some area of commercial art. Though I wonder if anyone actually draws anymore, or just uses a computer. And by the way, in what way do you think Americans "understand literature differently"? That was an interesting in-passing remark.

The Wasting Time guy made me think of conceptual art. I'm pretty sure there is a great deal of nonsense and worse perpetrated in its name.

Well, the film you linked to, Marianne, immediately confirms the link to conceptual art. I'm unable to watch it--I just get three- or four-second bursts interspersed with twenty-second pauses. But I'll take your word for the Yoko Ono comparison. And the text is full of the usual self-important and hackneyed avant-garde attempts to shock that shock only by their vapidity.

"Conceptual writing is the poetics of the moment." I'm going to faint--quick, get me my smelling salts and a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

Marianne wrote:

You can watch him in action in Sucking on Words, a 2007 film made about his work.
Mmmmmmmmmm, with a name like that, you know it's gotta be good--though perhaps Goldsmith should have stuck to lollipops and breath mints.

I was looking forward to watching some, but failed to obtain even the short bursts that Mac got. Maybe there's some kind of "garbage throttling" going on in which the servers choke off the bandwidth of outgoing rubbish-bits.

Too bad the film won't play properly for you. Here's what you missed -- from the script of the film:

--600 pages of rhyming r phrases, sorted by syllables and alphabetized.--

Simon Morris: “Ok, so Kenny do you want to tell us about no. 111. You often talk about the hook or the wrapper for each of your bookworks and uh, I just wondered what the wrapper was for this one?”

Kenneth Goldsmith: “Um, over the course of four years, I collected words that ended in the sound of ‘schwa’ which I’m told encompasses not only ‘ah’, but ‘ear’, ‘ur, ‘err’ and, or related things around the ‘r’. Um, when I began to, um, read the book, which I’ll read from in just a second, it seemed to resonate with what I’d heard about the Sanskrit word ‘aum’ which actually is pronounced ‘ah’, ‘uh’, ‘um’ which goes from the back of the throat to the mouth and then out through the lips, so it’s I, ear, err, all about swallowing and spitting out and pronouncing. So, over the course of four years, I just simply, um well the title is 2.7.93 – 10.29.96. So, during those dates anything that I heard that ended in that ‘schwa’ word, or, I’m sorry, that ‘schwa’ sound I collected and alphabetised and organised by, by syllable. So the first chapter goes one syllable words a-z, the second goes two syllable words a-z and we finally end up at the end with a 7,228 syllable chapter which is D.H.Lawrence’s Rocking Horse Winner in its entirety, um and the only constraint being the fact that it ends with the word ‘winner’ and anything that came before it was counted as syllables.”

Followed by Goldsmith’s reading from No.111 ... A, a, aar, aas, aer, agh, ah, air, är, are, arh, arre, arrgh, ars, aude, aw, awe, Ayr, Ba,ba, baa, baaaahh, baar, bah, bar, bard, bare, barge, barre, Bayer, beer, bere, beurre, bier, bla, blah, Blair, blare, blear, bleh, blur, boar,...

For 600 pages.

Perhaps one could use the film as a sort of white noise to go to sleep to--or go insane to.

"chosen darkening of the intellect"

Well, that to me is the creepiest thing yet. Darkening of the intellect, having been the unexpected consequence of sin, now become an educational standard. A sort of skipping of the middle man. Of course, I suppose the beginning of that was values modification, although I never made that connection before.

AMDG

I assumed that course on "Wasting Time on the Internet" was just satire. Isn't it?

:o

"Well, I find what you are saying pretty chilling because that class is so inane and I think about the inanity of evil and Weston just sitting and saying, "Ransom" over and over again at intervals and sticking his nasty fingernails in the poor frogs backs."

That's kind of what I thought the first time I saw a box of "Plan B" on the shelf at my local grocery store.

Oh, I haven't seen that yet. How disturbing.

AMDG

I'm surprised that they don't keep it locked up. Not because they don't want people to have it, but because of the likelihood that people will steal it.

AMDG

Marianne wrote:

Too bad the film won't play properly for you. Here's what you missed -- from the script of the film:
--600 pages of rhyming r phrases, sorted by syllables and alphabetized.--

[Some Q&A between Simon Morris and Goldsmith]
...

Followed by Goldsmith's reading from No.111 ... A, a, aar, aas, aer, agh, ah, air, ar, are, arh, arre, arrgh, ars, aude, aw, awe, Ayr, Ba,ba, baa, baaaahh, baar, bah, bar, bard, bare, barge, barre, Bayer, beer, bere, beurre, bier, bla, blah, Blair, blare, blear, bleh, blur, boar,...

It really is too bad I missed out on that fascinating reading. Though it does tend to confirm my "garbage throttling" theory...

Previously, you wrote:

I honestly don't understand how someone like Goldsmith can do what he does with a straight face.

Assuming Goldsmith managed to keep a straight face while reading from his profound tome, No.111, he is a master of the deadpan delivery.

Which leads to yet another theory. Evidently some people believe that Andy Kaufman is still alive. Maybe he's been hiding in plain sight at U Penn, goofing on the Ivy League with his creation of the fantastically deep and inscrutable character, the learned Professor Goldsmith...

It would be interesting to find that all the people who see Elvis walking the streets around here are really seeing Andy Kaufman.

AMDG

Forgive me, but although I vaguely recognize Andy Kaufman's name I don't really know who he is (was).

Goldsmith: not stupid, and not insane by any normal (oops) definition of insanity. But still...crazy.

Janet wrote:

It would be interesting to find that all the people who see Elvis walking the streets around here are really seeing Andy Kaufman.

I got a good laugh out of that one, Janet!

Unfortunately, it ruins my theory that Prof Goldsmith is actually an elaborate Kaufman shtick.

Let's see now. Ah. I notice that some people believe that Michael Jackson is still alive (google michael jackson dead or alive). So here's how we preserve both theories: a) Michael Jackson is still alive and is sometimes seen impersonating Elvis, while b) Andy Kaufman continues his wacky impersonation of "Prof Goldsmith."

(Mac, please excuse my excessive silliness, but Goldsmith is just so ludicrous and then Janet set me off with her theory of one dead guy impersonating another dead guy.)

Mac wrote:

One thing that's going on in all this is a deliberate, chosen darkening of the intellect, which I find very disturbing, and is part of the reason for my reaction to this guy's project.

This is the serious side of Goldsmith's nonsense, and I agree with you. All his absurdities pollute the waters of genuine thought in the humanities and make a mockery of it. What he does is like a so-called artist who takes a blank canvass, titles it "Emptiness of the Soul" and prattles on about how it signifies the vacuous nature at the heart of western society.

But this thing made me think of an honest question that has occurred to me lately regarding much of the PC-generated absurdities we're assaulted with daily (Goldsmith being just one example). I've noticed that sometimes my first reaction is to make a joke out of it--which is not hard, given how ridiculous much of it is.

In one case of some malevolent, PC absurdity, a blogger wrote something like, "Your only choice is to laugh or find something to punch." And I responded, "Right. And I prefer laughter."

It seems to me that a lot of lefty, PC stuff is both depraved/evil and nonsensical/absurd. If I respond only to the depraved/evil side, I think I'll go crazy. It's just too ugly and there's too much of it. So sometimes I respond to the nonsensical/absurd side by mocking it. My point here is just that mockery is not only a defense mechanism; it may actually be the most potent way to combat much of the avalanche of corrupt PC foolishness.

Andy Kaufman was Latka in Taxi. He started out on Saturday Night Live.

He was a very excellent Elvis impersonator, Gary, so I just don't think your theory is going to work.

I am not really an Elvis fan, but I do work in the penumbra of Graceland, so I am constantly under the influence.

AMDG

AMDG

"The devil, proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked"--or something like that, the epigraph of The Screwtape Letters.

I wonder if it's actually Jimmy Hoffa impersonating Goldsmith. Could be a deep spiritual connection there.

I think you've got it, Maclin.

AMDG

My remark on Americans understanding literature differently was just in response to Janet's remark that her B.Lit. course was almost all social commentary.

Perhaps combined with the existence of the University Press of Kentucky's series: Political Companions to Great American Authors.

But I was just teasing Janet, who I know has a much more sympathetic approach to literature.

The social/political approach is not confined to the US. There have been attempts in Europe to subsume the study of literature into something called "critical cultural studies" – partly successful but rather comically so, no other disciplines seeming inclined to join the literature professors congregated under that umbrella, so it effectively becomes a narrower way of looking at literature, rather than a broader way of looking at culture.

Some months ago I read Wuthering Heights. The edition I was reading had some critical essays which I was looking forward to until I took a close look at them. Most were politically oriented in one way or another. One lengthy one took the speculation that Heathcliff was part African (seems dubious to me) as a jumping-off point for a long discussion of the slave trade.

"...a narrower way of looking at literature, rather than a broader way of looking at culture." It strikes me that that's a parallel to the movement to treat theology as a branch of literature, which does no favor to either.

Those Poltiical Companions don't look quite as bad as the name led me to suspect. Looks like they're about the political thought of the authors, not a political critique. Still kind of a narrow and non-literary view, but I suppose not a bad thing. The one on Walker Percy doesn't seem too bad from the description.

I don't think they're bad in themselves, just that it's not a perspective that would ever occur to me to be a very fruitful approach to a literary author - except in so far as looking at a writer who was also very involved in politics or in political journalism (like Disraeli, say, or Hilaire Belloc).

There is something about Heathcliff being a dark-skinned half-breed, but that's as likely to mean gypsy or Mediterranean or (at Liverpool docks) Asian as it is to mean African. He has a hint of the furren, to underline his being a cuckoo in the nest (and a bit Byronic). Slave trade not relevant. But it is entirely characteristic of "critical cultural studies": take a bit of text, however slight, and use it as a mounting block for whatever social-economic hobby horse is in fashion.

It's been a very long time since I read WH, because I don't like it, but I always thought that Heathcliff was part gypsy. He had that sort of gypsy air.

AMDG

Apparently some numbers don't indicate poor earnings by humanities graduates: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2014/11/20/surprise-humanities-degrees-provide-great-return-on-investment/

I sent Bauerlein's essay to a friend who's a Classics prof at Franciscan Univ. in Steubenville. He hasn't read the whole thing yet, but he skimmed it, and his quick response was "I think the Humanities have been doomed since they separated themselves from the liberal arts."

I'm waiting to hear his follow up on that, but it's an interesting observation.

That is interesting. I'm going to have to think about that for a minute--if I ever get a minute.


AMDG

RE: Marianne's post on 11/14/14
I was interested in this given that it is focused on a class being given at, UPENN. I have, over the past decade, followed (off and on) a tenured professor at UPENN, Erin O'Connor. She is a English professor who created a blog largely dedicated to the many counter productive behaviors observed in our universities. Erin has been vigilant in pointing out the politicization of specific departments (including Humanities), and the calculated targeting of conservative professors by their Liberal counterparts. Through these years, she has been a lone voice from within. A welcomed voice. And largely unheard. Nonetheless, appreciated by me.
Alas, her blog has not been update for over 2 years (silent moment).
Archives are still available and relevant.
Happy Thanksgiving to each on this site.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

Looks like Erin O'Connor no longer works at UPenn:
http://www.erinoconnor.org/about.html

The Forbes article should be of some comfort to young humanities grads, but it isn't talking about exactly the same thing I was. It's talking about lifetime earnings, and I was talking about job prospects--any decent job at all (i.e. one that pays enough to live on) near-term, and a job related to the field of study long-term. People who find themselves in that just out of school, can't find a job situation do eventually find careers of some kind, and in general college grads still make more than non-college-grads. So it's not that the humanities degree is a total loss. But I think it's true that chances of finding a job quickly, or finding one at all that's in some way directly related to history or English or philosophy, are fairly small. There are two conditions in the data that probably make a big difference in the numbers:

"This data is based on a person’s major, not the industry they are employed in, so an history major earning millions working for a hedge fund is still counted toward the average earnings of history majors. It also uses only people who have bachelor’s degrees but no graduate degrees, so humanities majors who went to law school are not skewing the results."

The first one makes the long-term situation look better, the second makes it look worse.

Thank you. I gathered that Erin was gone from UPENN.
She most likely suffered the same fate of so many she wrote about.
Even though she was tenured, she must have been made to endure great isolation and ridicule and criticism and.....well, you get the point.
Her story is such a cool one. Raised by two parents who are atheists and most likely rabid Liberals from Kalifornia.
She is a self-admitted lesbian.
Why do I mention these elements of her profile?
Because, as a conservative, I have so appreciated her dedication to honesty and "outing" those within her peer group who exhibit incredibly bigoted, unethical, closed-minded behavior.
Mac, I appreciate your comments on the marketability of a humanities degree. We as a country have done a poor job in counseling our children on USABLE, marketable, prudent pursuits for further education and career paths.
Foreigners travel to America in droves for engineering and math degrees while we send our kids to learn, "basket weaving", and "COMMUNITY ORGANIZING", and "ETHNIC STUDIES", and "GLOBAL WARMING".
My niece in Kalifornia recently graduated with a, "Environmental Economics" degree from Cal Poly S.L.O.
A year later her best job prospects in her chosen degree is with a company in Sweden. Love this girl. Smart as a whip. She'll land okay. She simply drank a bit too much Kool Aid from the Liberal teachings of her parents.

The whole point about humanities degrees, as I understand it, is that they aren't vocational. They produce generalists who can do all sorts of stuff. If somebody wants a job in literature I suspect a better route is to study psychology or history or business or journalism than to study literature.

I actually find it vaguely insulting that this person should be calculating the monetary value of humane letters, but also vaguely insulting that they think it's a surprise humanities graduates make a decent living. But I was really just struck by how much the question seems to be in the air right now.

Thanksgiving has just impinged itself upon my consciousness. I imagine that for most of you media and shop displays and necessary preparations have made it apparent for somewhat longer. A joyous occasion to all of you that celebrate it.

Thanksgiving has just impinged itself upon my consciousness.

A new talent. Impinging.

AMDG

I think many people who study the humanities have a secret hope that they're going to be paid to pursue their interests, and harbor a not quite so secret resentment against the world that this is not going to be the case. There's a tendency to blame the crass modern commercial society, and to think that it wasn't always thus. But it probably was. The world has never really needed very many scholars and men of letters.

Anyway...I think the question is in the air lately because the job market has been so bad for the past 5+ years, and liberal arts grads have probably been more likely than most to step off campus into minimum wage jobs. I don't have any numbers, but I would guess that social science grads are in at least as poor a situation.

Good luck to your niece, Clarityseeker. I'm going to read more on Erin O'Connor's blog when I get a chance.

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