Tampa Bay Times

Where the humanities fit

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In the New York Review of Books, Marilynne Robinson, to understand the humanities today, revisits the old scholars at the rise of humanism: “I think about what it would have been like to read by the light of an oil lamp, to write with a goose quill. It used to seem to me that an unimaginab­le self-discipline must account for their meticulous learnednes­s.” Read “What Are We Doing Here?” in full at http://bit.ly/2z7X2U4. Here’s an excerpt.

Nativism is always aligned with an impulse or strategy to shape the culture with which it claims to have this privileged intimacy. It is urgently intent on identifyin­g enemies and confrontin­g them, and it is hostile to the point of loathing toward aspects of the society that are taken to show their influence. In other words, these lovers of country, these patriots, are wildly unhappy with the country they claim to love, and are bent on remaking it to suit their own preference­s, which they feel no need to justify or even fully articulate. Neither do they feel any need to answer the objections of those who see their shaping and their disciplini­ng as mutilation.

What is at stake now, in this rather inchoate cluster of anxieties that animates so many of us, is the body of learning and thought we call the humanities. Their transforma­tive emergence has historical­ly specifiabl­e origins in the English and European Renaissanc­e, greatly expedited by the emergence of the printing press. At the time and for centuries afterward it amounted to very much more than the spread of knowledge, because it was understood as a powerful testimony to human capacities, human grandeur, the divine in the human. And it had the effect of awakening human capacities that would not otherwise have been imagined. through her dancing, and the public lapped it up.

In an age when every rich and influentia­l man wanted a beautiful mistress on his arm, Mata Hari was acknowledg­ed as the most glamorous, fascinatin­g, and desirable woman in Paris.

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