A Time for the Humanities: Futurity and the Limits of Autonomy

By James J. Bono; Tim Dean et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Crisis Means Turning Point:
A Manifesto for Art and Accountability

Doris Sommer

When I feel trapped, I ask myself, what would an artist do?

ANTANAS MOCKUS

If the humanities are in crisis, this is no time to lament a cruel fate, but to make choices, fast. In common usage, crisis can mean stagnation and festering, a present so oppressively present that it crowds out the past and stifles the future. It is paralysis, or the kind of revolution that moves in vicious circles, like the ones associated with Mexico’s Institutionalized Revolutionary Party until its first national defeat in 2000.1 What response is possible except a derivative criticism, since there is nothing to do but disengage and denounce? Humanists have become adept at this face-saving gesture in the face of impossible odds. But crisis has another, more engaging, and obliging, meaning if you follow the etymological precision that enables Antonio Gramsci’s interventions, despite the scientific Marxists who would have stopped him: Crisis means the opportunity, and therefore the obligation, to choose, quickly.2 Acknowledging the danger of the other meaning—a static equilibrium imposed by a

I am grateful for the advice of Professor Arabella Lyon in preparing this essay.
Among her contributions is the reference to Robert Scholes. “Presidential
Address 2004: The Humanities in a Posthumanist World.” PMLA 120 (May
2005): 724–733.

-210-

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