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The Humanities and Public Life [Hardcover]

Hilary Jewett , Peter Brooks
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 47.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

25 April 2014 0823257045 978-0823257041
This volume tests the proposition that the humanities can, and at their best do, represent a commitment to ethical reading. And that this commitment, and the training and discipline of close reading that underlie it, represent something that the humanities need to bring to other fields: to professional training, and to public life. What leverage does reading, of the attentive sort practiced in the interpretive humanities, give you on life? Does such reading represent or produce an ethics? The question was posed for many of us in the humanities by the "Torture Memos" released by the Justice Department a few years ago, presenting arguments that justified the use of torture by our government with the most twisted, ingenious, perverse, and unethical interpretation of legal texts. No one trained in the rigorous analysis of poetry, we want to claim, could possibly engage in such bad-faith interpretation without professional conscience intervening to say: this is not possible. Teaching the humanities, appears to many a disempowered profession - and status - within American culture. Yet the ability to read critically the messages that society, politics, and culture bombard us with may be more than ever needed training in a world in which the manipulation of minds and hearts is more and more what running the world is all about. This volume brings together a group of distinguished scholars and intellectuals in debate on the public role and importance of the humanities. Their exchange may suggest that Shelley was not wrong to insist that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind: cultural change carries everything in its wake. The attentive interpretive reading practiced in the humanities ought to be an export commodity to other fields, and to take its place in the public sphere.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Fordham University Press (25 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0823257045
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823257041
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,374,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

"The Humanities and Public Life, an original, provocative, multi-voiced commentary on the state and possibilities of the humanities, strikes fresh notes in what has become a rather tired (though often desperately earnest) conversation. Although its essays repeatedly take unexpected directions, it suggests a unified way of thinking about issues that might appear disparate."-Patricia Meyer Spacks, Edgar F. Shannon, Professor Emerita, University of Virginia "Like Ruth, homesick among the alien corn, humanities scholarship seems lost in the cold wilderness of instrumental reason. The Humanities and Public Life is a tonic and refreshing conversation about the possibility of redemption."-Robert Post, Yale Law School "More than just a collection of smart essays, The Humanities and Public Life leaves ample room for discussion, dialogue, and dissent among its distinguished participants. This volume crackles with intellectual energy . Strongly recommended for anyone concerned with the ethics of reading and the public good of the humanities."-Rita Felski, University of Virginia "This is a highly original and deeply exhilarating contribution to public debate about the value of the humanities. The scholars convened by Brooks are individually first-rate and diverse in field, representing literary studies, philosophy, politiical theory, law, and humanistic social science. Their insightful brief essays (it does not denigrate the others if I single out Elaine Scarry's beautiful meditation on the imagination and Jonathan Lear's haunting evocation of cultural loss) are framed by vigorous discussion and genuine interdisciplinary exchange. Stimulating for scholars and non-scholars alike, this book is unique for the range and quality of perspectives it makes available."-Martha C. Nussbaum, University of Chicago

About the Author

Peter Brooks is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Yale University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholar at the University Center for Human Values and the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton University. Hilary Jewett, Assistant Director of the "Ethics of Reading" project, is a lawyer, literary scholar, and editor.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Arts strike back! 25 Mar 2014
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
“The New Yorker... claimed that the Bush administration began its distortion of reality with the distortion of language”... “The ability to read critically the messages that society, politics, and culture bombard us with is needed training in a society in which the manipulation of minds and hearts is increasingly what running the world is all about”

In the face of an ongoing devaluation of the arts and humanities in both the US and the UK in favour of a cost-benefit analysis of education and an emphasis on the utility, ‘impact’, and ‘instrumentality’ of learning, finally proponents of the arts strike back. This book springs from a conference at Princeton where a range of academics from across the arts and humanities put forward a series of papers which engage deeply with the ethics of a humanist education, and the extent to which critical reading is a necessary component of both ethical and democratic society and, thus, a skill that every citizen should have.

For many of us who work in academia, the idea that what we are teaching English and Humanities students is not so much how to read Virgil or Homer or Shakespeare (though we certainly do that too) but how to think critically and interpret imaginatively, to deconstruct and reconstruct arguments, and to understand the social and cultural work that is done by texts, is nothing new – but it needs to be said again, and loudly, and upfront and as eloquently as these writers say it.

Judith Butler’s keynote is as strident and yet rational and passionate as we expect from her, and her essay is supported, contested, challenged throughout the book. The very dialogue that this conference prompted is itself the very picture of ideal democracy – multiple, diverse, questioning, open, self-aware and ethical.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pointing an educated finger - at themselves 1 April 2014
By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The Humanities and Public Life is a minefield for a reviewer. The “ethics of reading”, the basis of the discussion, examines how we choose, collect, interpret, react, evaluate and are changed by texts. The cobweb of possibilities, and the intensity of the light shined on it, are intimidating.

Not to mention the quality of the participants. This book is the print version of a symposium put together by Peter Brooks of Princeton, after being, shall we say “moved” by the Torture Memos of the Bush administration. He invited his peers from Ivy League-type schools to be the audience and the participants. Everyone got to comment on everyone else’s contributions. The result is thorough, thoughtful, debatable, and unresolved. All good things.

At base it’s a pretty defensive argument for the humanities – how to justify their continuing existence in a time of cutbacks, how to make them more pertinent, more effective, more mission critical, more relevant. It diverges to all kinds of tangents as the learned participants snap off weak limbs and run with them.

The whole debate is put into strikingly sharp relief by William Germano, who came to academia (Cooper Union) via publishing (Columbia, Routledge). Unlike many of his co-commenters who deal with some aspect of someone else’s contribution, Germano takes on the entire topic - head on. His analysis is clear and pointed. His conclusion is that we might be asking the wrong question. Perhaps it is writing, not reading that needs to be ethically self conscious, because the writer will change the reader, for better or for worse, correctly or incorrectly. He puts the entire argument into clear perspective by taking it to a different level.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pointing an educated finger - at themselves 27 Feb 2014
By David Wineberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Humanities and Public Life is a minefield for a reviewer. The “ethics of reading”, the basis of the discussion, examines how we choose, collect, interpret, react, evaluate and are changed by texts. The cobweb of possibilities, and the intensity of the light shined on it, are intimidating.

Not to mention the quality of the participants. This book is the print version of a symposium put together by Peter Brooks of Princeton, after being, shall we say “moved” by the Torture Memos of the Bush administration. He invited his peers from Ivy League-type schools to be the audience and the participants. Everyone got to comment on everyone else’s contributions. The result is thorough, thoughtful, debatable, and unresolved. All good things.

At base it’s a pretty defensive argument for the humanities – how to justify their continuing existence in a time of cutbacks, how to make them more pertinent, more effective, more mission critical, more relevant. It diverges to all kinds of tangents as the learned participants snap off weak limbs and run with them.

The whole debate is put into strikingly sharp relief by William Germano, who came to academia (Cooper Union) via publishing (Columbia, Routledge). Unlike many of his co-commenters who deal with some aspect of someone else’s contribution, Germano takes on the entire topic - head on. His analysis is clear and pointed. His conclusion is that we might be asking the wrong question. Perhaps it is writing, not reading that needs to be ethically self conscious, because the writer will change the reader, for better or for worse, correctly or incorrectly. He puts the entire argument into clear perspective by taking it to a different level.

The best defense of the humanities comes from Jonathan Lear (Chicago), who, trying out for reporter at the Yale Daily News, interviewed the head of the fraternity where rumor had it they were physically branding initiates. The fraternity head said “It’s not as bad as you think.” And it turns out, that has been his m.o. ever since. Oh, his name was George W. Bush, the same Bush behind the Torture Memos that led to the symposium. Lear asks how the world might have been different had Bush been taught some right from wrong, had some dean become indignant over this activity, had the humanities taken a more direct role in forming students’ ability to judge ethically.

The result is nothing - no final statement, no recommendations, no follow-on symposia. But we are left with a book that challenges on numerous levels and from numerous angles.

David Wineberg
3.0 out of 5 stars An Academic Fest at Best 30 Jun 2014
By John Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While its academic prose and issues may titilate academics, this inbred manifesto will not excite others to support the humanities.
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