Qfwfq, Endgame

Can literary studies survive? This is the subject matter of a collection of essays by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a major news service in United States academic affairs. The intro is deliciously gloomy… The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it:

The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it. Preliminary data suggest that hiring is at an all-time low. Entire subfields (modernism, Victorian poetry) have essentially ceased to exist. In some years, top-tier departments are failing to place a single student in a tenure-track job. Aspirants to the field have almost no professorial prospects; practitioners, especially those who advise graduate students, must face the uneasy possibility that their professional function has evaporated. Befuddled and without purpose, they are, as one professor put it recently, like the Last Dinosaur described in an Italo Calvino story: “The world had changed: I couldn’t recognize the mountain any more, or the rivers, or the trees.”

The Chronicle Review, Endgame (Via NYT)

The question of whether humanities will stand the test of the current technological “revolution” is not new, but it’s gaining traction and reaching the public debate. In the collection you may find some interesting ideas, e.g.:

(…) in the West, secularization has happened not once but twice. It happened first in relation to religion, and second, more recently, in relation to culture and the humanities (…) Faith has been lost across two different zones: first, religion; then, high culture (…) We now live in a doubly secularized age, post-religious and postcanonical. The humanities have become merely a (rather eccentric) option for a small fraction of the population.

Simon During, Losing Faith in the Humanities,

Ideas of ‘crisis’ confer excitement and a sense of engagement on people who spend most of their time in libraries, in classrooms, or working at home in their bathrobes.

Lisi Schoenbach, Enough With the Crisis Talk!

However, I think that we are still very far from a meaningful debate. The superficial confrontation between STEM and the humanities, goes all the way down to the foundation of our present education system and the role of the university. And, as a good colleague of mine and university professor explains very well:

Even if the concept of “university” has evolved over time, universities were able to survive for centuries until our days, and they represent an extraordinary case of institutional resilience over more than five hundred years.

Not yet published, to the best of my knowledge.

Perhaps, when the New Ones (STEM’ers) finally become the masters of the planet, they will accept Qfwfq (the humanities’ dinosaur) into their tribe labeled as “the ugly one,” as in Calvino’s short story.


Featured Image: Endgame by Samuel Beckett,

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