Saturday, July 13, 2013
Fruits of the Book Editor at the Wall Street Journal--Carl Rollyson on Hershel Parker, Lee Siegel on "Who Ruined the Humanities"
See Lee Siegel in the 12 July 2013 WSJ and go back to Rollyson's review of my MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATOR in the 30 March 2013 WJS. Both articles trace the malign academic destruction of the joyous private encounter of readers with great literature. In MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY I don't write about reading KING LEAR in the summer of 1952 sitting against a locust tree (giving no shade) in a pasture in Red Rock, Oklahoma, cow patties all around. In that book I do write about reading Shakespeare on my own during bed-rest with tuberculosis and reading Moby-Dick on my own, during recovery, and reading Chaucer, Spenser, Wordsworth, Whitman, Dickinson, and Faulkner alone after midnight in the cavernous Freight Office of the KCS in Port Arthur, Texas, while attending classes at Lamar in Beaumont. Milton and Yeats are the only great writers I ever encountered first in a class, but I got to absorb both of them alone, after midnight. Reading as I did, I encountered great writers with joy. Such joy can never occur in classrooms in what has become of the Humanities.
I hope that works for Siegel. Here is the start of the article.
Fewer and fewer undergraduates are majoring in the humanities, and critic Lee Siegel couldn’t be happier. As he tells WSJ’s Gary Rosen, great poetry and novels are meant to be experienced in private and alone, away from the competitive pressures of the classroom.
You've probably heard the baleful reports. The number of college students majoring in the humanities is plummeting, according to a big study released last month by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The news has provoked a flood of high-minded essays deploring the development as a symptom and portent of American decline.
But there is another way to look at this supposed revelation (the number of humanities majors has actually been falling since the 1970s).
The bright side is this: The destruction of the humanities by the humanities is, finally, coming to a halt. No more will literature, as part of an academic curriculum, extinguish the incandescence of literature. No longer will the reading of, say, "King Lear" or D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" result in the flattening of these transfiguring encounters into just two more elements in an undergraduate career—the onerous stuff of multiple-choice quizzes, exam essays and homework assignments.