Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities

Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities

Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities

Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities

Synopsis

A nationally known scholar, essayist, and public advocate for the humanities, Michael Berube has a rapier wit and a singular talent for parsing complex philosophical, theoretical, and political questions. Rhetorical Occasions collects twenty-four of his major essays and reviews, plus a sampling of entries on literary theory and contemporary culture from his award-winning weblog.

Selected to showcase the range of public writing available to scholars, the essays are grouped into five topical sections: the Sokal hoax and its effects on the humanities; cosmopolitanism, American studies, and cultural studies; daily academic life inside and outside the classroom; the events of September 11, 2001, and their political aftermath; and the potential discursive and tonal range of academic blog writing. In lively and entertaining prose, Berube offers a wide array of interventions into matters academic and nonacademic. By example and illustration, he reminds readers that the humanities remain central to our understanding of what it means to be human.

Excerpt

Between 1997 and 2001, when I served as the founding director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I did very little sustained writing. By “sustained,” I mean the kind of writing one can do if one has six or eight (or twelve or eighteen) months at one’s disposal — the kind of time most people need to conceptualize and begin to work on book-length projects. and in taking that job, I knew I was agreeing not to embark on any major projects for the foreseeable future; instead, I devoted myself to running an institute that would provide other Illinois faculty with released time for their major scholarly projects, and I decided that I would spend most of my time learning about academic fields with respect to which I was something between a neophyte and a troglodyte. I wanted, among other things, to build programming bridges between the College of Liberal Arts at Illinois, in which my program was housed, and the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Krannert Museum, and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Those bridges were eventually built, but I was initially stunned at how easily collaborations between the arts and humanities could be stymied by academic bureaucracies: what is one to make, I wondered, of the fact that art and music are so distant, on the organizational chart, from literature and philosophy, even though most of the forms of human social organization over the past five thousand years have treated these as cognate endeavors that draw on our creative and interpretive energies? How can we make sense of a bookkeeping dispensation in which molecular biology is affianced to English and modern languages under the sign of “liberal arts,” while the Department of Theater is as remote from English and modern languages as is the Department of Kinesiology or the College of Business Administration? Is there any defensible rationale behind the parallel curricula governing the arts and humanities, according to which the student artists are to be trained in the practices of representation while remaining largely ignorant of theories of representation in the humanities and the student humanists are to be trained in theories of representation while . . .

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