Re: Defend the Humanities

by Carol Iannone

As noted below, John Ellis cogently argues that the plea to “defend the humanities” is being made by people who had everything to do with tearing down the value of the humanities in the first place. Ellis also exposes the vacuity of Louis Menand’s much-praised book, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University, in Academic Questions, article available online.

Similarly, at a conference of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers held recently in Princeton, I was surprised that the lament over the shrinkage of support for the humanities and for literature was carried on without reference to the deleterious academic fads that for decades have been undermining them — Marxism, feminism, deconstruction, postcolonialism, postmodernism, all of which denied the possibility of truth and objective knowledge, denigrated the classics as foils for the deployment of power by the privileged white male elite, worked to dismantle the great tradition as racist, sexist, classist, and exclusionary, and promoted inferior works that supposedly represented the formerly excluded victims. The ALSCW, formerly the ALSC, was founded precisely because the Modern Language Association failed to defend the literary heritage but instead enthusiastically championed these trends. You go out of your way to announce that great literature is not really great and perhaps no greater than your average television show, and not surprisingly interest will decline.

The ALSCW members certainly know how to do literary scholarship and criticism as it was meant to be done, and the literary panel I attended was excellent, but it doesn’t do to let the history of what has happened go down the memory hole.