Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The zeitgeist

It looks like the Snarkmarket guys aren't the only ones thinking about new liberal arts. (Which is no surprise, really.)

Mark Taylor writes in the NYT about the need for a new University. (Although it sounds to me at times that he's often just looking for a new organizational structure—there's not much that talks about changing the way scholars teach, or desired outcomes, particularly for undergraduates.)

Taylor asks us to:
Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.

Sounds like a good idea to me. Or perhaps, a fourth year organized around questions of food?

The Chronicle of Higher Education also presents evidence that "Digital Humanities" scholars are more likely to collaborate on publications than "traditional" scholars.

The New Liberal Arts are already out there. Our task is to organize, name, and continue to work.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Best. Easter Card. Ever.

I don't think it actually had anything to do with Easter, but it made my day.

Thanks, Theresa. :-)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Brevity, sweet brevity

A. O. Scott asks us to reconsider the downtrodden, undervalued short story:

Reading through their collected stories, you wonder if novels are even necessary. The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose.

What's more, Scott observes, I think correctly, that new formats demand the writers be able to work in a reduced form.

The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?

The real insight is that these are both/and positions, and not either/or. Books, as the best way to consume extended narrative, will survive, although when given the choice, many people may consume their narrative in bits. This is an opportunity, particularly for young writers, to shape new forms and craft new aesthetics. There are new tools. Let new fictions rise to meet them. It is time for a new avant-garde. May it shock us all.