Saturday, March 10, 2012

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to me

An open letter to the interwebs, not to individuals. For the record, nobody said what's exactly in quotation marks, but it's an impression I've been getting.

Let me start with a premise: one of the fundamental principles of the humanities is that we can agree to disagree or even argue, but that we do so with a respect for the other person's expertise or body of knowledge. If we don't think the other person has much knowledge, we still try to understand his or her perspective and see it as an individual issue, not an indictment of the disciplinary specialty as a whole. That's one way that humanistic discourse differs from the mud-slinging invective that passes for political discourse in this country.


If you tell me that you don't think it's important that students read, or that some of us teach, what might loosely be translated as "old s@#$% by a bunch of dead people" and that students ought to be held accountable only for what they can find and interrogate and theorize on YouTube and Facebook, I might have a problem with that.

If you tell me that exploring and learning about books from the 20th-century and back into the past is basically stick-a-fork-in-it done, and that learning about history and culture is passe, I might have a problem with that. I suspect that classics, medievalist, and early modernist scholars would have an even bigger problem with it.

Why can't we do both?

The thing is, there's space for all kinds of work in this discipline--YouTube and "old S@#$%," a.k.a. literature--so why would you say or imply that one has to replace the other? I respect what you do enough to know that there are many things about it that I don't know. We all have to assume this, or we could never have a functional discipline, let alone functional departments within a discipline. So can't you believe that there is some value in the "old S@#$%"--that is, show it some respect?

Dear interwebs, I may have misunderstood the import of what you were saying, and if so, I apologize. But do think about what I've said.


Bardiac said...


Old stuff is so fascinating! New stuff can be good, too, but old stuff for the win!

undine said...

Thanks, Bardiac, I'd just like the interwebs to acknowledge that not everybody has to do research on Dexter, The Walking Dead, and World of Warcraft to have something useful to say to students.