The fact that the President’s indifference to the humanities hasn’t evoked criticism from academics indicates more than just political agreement [between professors and president]. It signals a new relationship of humanities professors to their own materials,” writes First Things’s Mark Bauerlein in ”Humanities: Doomed to Lose?” (New Criterion, November). Obama’s generally apathetic and indiscriminating approach to the humanities and the arts reveals a similar flatness in the academy that supports him:
Twenty-five years ago we had an ideological battle over the tradition, but professors learned that no skirmishes had to happen, only an expansion of the domain. Indeed, from this vantage point, it looks as if the radical critique was only a provisional offensive, a middle-stage before a liberal modulation arrived to accommodate both sides. It’s a workable compromise that retains the old and recognizes the new, and it has the rhetorical advantage of stamping both those who decree, “You must require more Shakespeare!” and those who complain, “You’re teaching too much Shakespeare!” as extremists.
We should recognize that this flexible diversity signifies not only a socio-political standpointcall it “curricular liberalism”but also a slackened measure of devotion. To level Paradise Lost with The Joy Luck Club, you cannot worry much about distinctions of greatness. If you believe that the Great Books comprise human thought and creation in their highest expression, it’s not enough to preserve them as an option on the menu, where they might fall alongside courses in robots on TV and Harry Potter (yes, juniors and seniors studying English at Emory last semester are enjoying these classes). Your conviction demands more than inclusion. A heterogeneous jumble of classic and contemporary, traditional and multicultural, Eurocentric and “otherly,” sounds like a positive expression of enlightened liberality, but in truth it is a confession of apathy. They just don’t care.
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