restricted access A Report to an Academy: Some Untimely Meditations Out of Season
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A Report to an Academy:
Some Untimely Meditations Out of Season

The oversaturation of an age with history seems to me to be hostile and dangerous to life in five respects: such an excess creates that contrast between inner and outer which we have just discussed, and thereby weakens the personality; it leads an age to imagine that it possesses the rarest of virtues, justice, to a greater degree than any other age; it disrupts the instincts of a people, and hinders the individual no less than the whole in the attainment of maturity; it implants the belief, harmful at any time, in the old age of mankind, the belief that one is a latecomer and epigone; it leads an age into a dangerous mood of irony in regard to itself and subsequently into the even more dangerous mood of Cynicism: in this mood, however, it develops more and more a prudent practical egoism through which the forces of life are paralyzed and at last destroyed.

Nietzsche "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life"

Teachers are the forlorn hope of the culture of Western modernity. I use that expression in the original sixteenth-century Dutch sense (verloren hoop) of an assault party sent out on some dangerous offensive mission in advance of the main forces, as well as in its later English sense of an enterprise on whose success we have to depend, but which is in fact bound to fail. For the mission with which contemporary teachers are entrusted is both essential and impossible. It is impossible because the two major purposes which teachers are required to serve are, under the conditions of Western modernity, mutually incompatible. What are those purposes?

Alasdair MacIntyre "The Idea of an Educated Public" [End Page 27]

This essay was initially an address, and, in keeping with the spirit of an address, it has become here in the spirit of a Bakhtinian dialogical form an open letter addressed in a Kafka-like manner to "A Report to an Academy," the well-known self-confession of the captured ape who addresses his captors in a dialogical utterance, in the spirit of Dostoevsky's novel Poor Folk. Kafka's mock address is not an academic argument as such but is a Menippean satire by an ape posing as an academic. Behind my report are a number of addressees, particularly Georg Simmel who, from his outsider position, addressed the crisis of modern culture. In Simmel's 1918 essay "The Conflict in Modern Culture" he described the conflict within the old culture and the new culture as the conflict not only of class war but about who would carry out the task to create a new culture. Simmel was a classic "outsiders' outsider," who had difficulty getting a permanent academic position by defining the origins of his thought in a traditional disciplinary form, which then and now makes it difficult to place him in any traditional discipline.1 In this way he was a forerunner of Walter Benjamin, who never had an academic position and who does not fit snugly into a disciplinary jacket. Simmel's work sides with the outsiders in culture, the misfits and strangers—and therefore by extension raises the question of how we understand the Kantian notion of a radical and critical form of Bildung beyond the Enlightenment sense and project, what both Kant and Simmel refer to as the free self-possessed search for the autonomy of the person. Bildung cannot exist without living out a sense of dissident cynicism toward emerging culture itself. The shadow of Nietzsche's comment on cynicism clings to the question, How is the university possible?, in an age of the mass market conditioning of culture when the nature of capitalism keeps us hysterically jumping with the speed of change.

The modern moment in the literature of the malcontented humanities can be said to have begun with the emergence of an educated public [End Page 28] burdened with the idea of democracy and the future of culture, if there was to be a future at all. The misfit of the humanities is part of its very identity. World War I is the background...