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T.H. ADAMOWSKI Radical Ingratitude: Mass-Man and the Humanities I The will to ignore is therefore the refusal to be free. Furthennore, it is ... the refusal to face our responsibilities. Jean-Paul Sartre, Truth and Existence On most campuses one can find the humanities by following the unmistakable keening of their self-lament - complaints about shabby facilities, relatively low salaries, the high prestige of the sciences, inadequate research support, and the indifference to such complaints shown by university administrators, governments, and the public at large (Rosovsky, 222-3). If all this were not bad enough, these disciplines are also subject to public crises of vocational legitimacy arising from the feeling of many undergraduates that they represent poor vocational choices. In modern universities, nothing is more likely to cause chronic, low-level depression for disciplines than poor employment prospects for their stUdents. However, the humanities are nothing if not paradoxical, for they also think quite highly of themselves. During the period of modernization in the West, this trait has often been bound up with certain 'epistemological' notions that many humanists have believed provide them with the authority to function as a kind of Department of Cultu'ral Weights and Measures,. From the time of the Romantic imagination to more recent conceptions of verstehen (Dilthey), hermeneutics of 'Dasein' (Heidegger and Gadamert 'new critical' conceptions of literature as a text armoured against 'positivism' and discursive paraphrase, contemporary notions of dialectic and 'ideology' (usually coloured by Marxism), the deconstruction of 'logocentrism,' etc, the' humanities have offered hugely seIfconfident and often antinomian appraisals of the world around them.] In a humanities common room, the passage is swift from dirge to dithyramb. I would like to examine some aspects of this paradox and to suggest, first, that in so far as the liberal democratic societies of the West view the humanities as marginal this may betray their ignorance of or their incautious indifference to the extent of their debt to a cultural heritage UNIVERSJ1i' OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 63, NUMBER 3, SPRlNG 1994 382 r.H. ADAMOWSKI that it is one of the missions of the humanities to preserve and interpret. If, despite the present hard times, these societies remain healthy, this may depend on more than politics, economics, and technology. In short, I want to propose a kind of attack into the home waters of the humanities' detractors, one that insists on their importance not only to what is most valuable in the West but to what the West most values. However, if the humanities' best defence would reveal their indispensability to both the 'spirirual' and 'material' well-being of their societies, one must ask why they seem congenitally unable to convey this importance to these societies. In the second part of this essay, then, I want to examine one area of the humanities, literary studies and, in particular, contemporary literary studies and some of the antinomian gestures they have elaborated. For if the humanities can best defend themselves by showing themselves socially indispensable, it becomes self-defeating for them to strike antinomian stances that take the culture generally including certain assumptions that antinomianism shares with that culture - as an enemy, to be undermined and called into question from the root. I will sketch a double and reciprocal pattern of 'bad faith': bad faith in the social attitude towards the humanities, and bad faith in the understanding some in the humanities have of their place in society. But one must take seriously that humanities lament for themselves, for there is a sad old joke that some paranoiacs have real enemies. There are as many ways of taking the lament seriously as there are themes to lament. I want to consider a theme - fund-raising - that reveals a culture's attitude towards academic products with a precision an accountant can measure. One may be forgiven for recalling the old joke when, in an article on a newly installed university president in Canada, one learns from someone knowledgeable about corporate opinion that when the 'private sector' supports universities it will 'look for a business school or something with practical, short-term payback. It's not going to fund the philosophy department' (Grove-White, 74). This assessment...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 381-407
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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