Humanities2015, 4(2), 198-211; doi:10.3390/h4020198 - published 15 April 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Usually, Zhuangzi’s parable of “the butterfly dream/dreaming butterfly” is read as an enigmatic version, from “the East”, of the Cartesian skeptical challenges to “objective reality” or else the Lacanian psycho-drama of the “pure gaze” in which “he”, Zhuangzi, “is a butterfly for nobody”, who stands for “the Real”. Retooling some of the critical insights from these standard dialectical or anxiogenic approaches to this allegorical puzzle of self-identity, both of which, however, tend to leave unquestioned or else structurally overrate the binarized inner-exclusivity of typical pairs such as in/out, subject/object, illusion/reality, and all/nothing, this article proposes a relatively novel, fluid model of unraveling the speculative knot, the dots of lepidopterological spacetime irreducible to a simpler “point” in space and time. As we follow the narrative sequence more micro- and macrologically at once, with holistic, philopoetic attention to its intricate conceptual cues and contextual clues, especially its streaks and energies of “oppositional poetics” envisaged by Anne Waldman, for instance, we come to see more clearly the trans-categorical auto-generativity of its modal openness, its oddly powerful, non-militarily propelled, avant-garde peripherality. As Zhuangzi’s butterfly gets freed this way from the discursive net where it is lost and found (often instantly dead), the vocalized figure of the “irritating” narrator, too, will change more freely, flying in and out and back in “daoistically” rather than agonistically.
Humanities2015, 4(1), 181-197; doi:10.3390/h4010181 - published 5 March 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Hans Blumenberg’s magisterial defense of modernity against the reproach of secularization, elaborated most extensively in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1966, 1974), develops both a distinctive method of philosophical history and the groundwork of a philosophical anthropology, predicated on the emergence of human self-assertion as theoretical curiosity. But as Blumenberg’s work attests more generally, this argument both devolves on and comprises an excursion into metaphorology, transposing the grounds of legitimation from dialectic to rhetoric. This paper explores the implications of such a metaphorical transfer, suggesting that Blumenberg not only presupposes a cryptic mode of poetics, but also (against its own anthropological intention) invests that poetics with the power to negate the category of the human as such.
Humanities2015, 4(1), 149-180; doi:10.3390/h4010149 - published 6 February 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: This essay takes up the encounter between philosophy and literature through a reconsideration of Walter Benjamin’s remarks from “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” about Henri Bergson’s Matière et mémoire as an attempt “[t]owering above” other ventures into Lebensphilosophie to “lay hold of the ‘true’ experience, as opposed to the kind that manifests itself in the standardized, denatured life of the civilized masses”. Despite his initial affirmation of Bergson’s understanding of experience as connected with tradition, Benjamin criticizes the philosopher’s account for sidestepping “the alienating, blinding experience of the age of large-scale industrialism” in reaction to which, as Benjamin insists, Bergson’s philosophy of memory developed. Yet even as Bergson shuts out the historical import of modernization, according to Benjamin, he also spotlights a “complementary” visual experience “in the form of its spontaneous afterimage”. Benjamin subsequently defines Bergson’s philosophy as “an attempt to specify this afterimage and fix it as a permanent record”, an endeavor that inadvertently “furnishes a clue to the experience which presented itself undistorted to Baudelaire’s eyes, in the figure of his reader”. If the literary critic might be viewed here as weighing in on a long-running antagonism between philosophy and literature, then his assessment is resolute: by praising the self-conscious historicity of Baudelaire’s lyric, Benjamin declares that poetry succeeds where Lebensphilosophie fails. Notably, Baudelaire is not the only figure to upstage “ahistorical” Bergson, since Marcel Proust and Sigmund Freud facilitate this victory. To contextualize the second section of “Motifs”, where Benjamin discusses the novelist’s “immanent critique of Bergson” this essay offers a reading of “On the Image of Proust” as a propadeutic to Benjamin’s privileging of “Baudelaire” over “Bergson” in the first section of “Motifs” to broach the destinies of diminished perception before he turns to Freud in the third section. Drawing upon Freud’s thermodynamic model of a selective and protective perceptual-conscious system from Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Benjamin explains how perception calcifies in adapting to industrialism. Notably, however, his “energetics” does not remain bound by closed-system economic premises insofar as he conceives Baudelaire’s correspondances as an antidote to reification and modernization fatigue. The resulting configuration emerges against the backdrop of a lament about the decline of tradition-infused, long-term experience[Erfahrung] that accompanies the rise of isolated experience[Erlebnis]. In tracking Benjamin’s seemingly melancholic emplotment of the literary image between “Proust” and “Baudelaire”, the essay ultimately focuses on how he amplifies its sociohistorical potential to attest to the dehiscence of tradition as a community-sustaining force.
Humanities2015, 4(1), 131-148; doi:10.3390/h4010131 - published 4 February 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: What might Humanities have to offer to the current big societal and technological challenges? The nine short position papers presented here were collected by Svend Erik Larsen from colleagues and members of the Academia Europaea Section for Literary and Theatrical Studies who have been actively involved in the changes within their discipline in the areas they introduce. They show emerging interdisciplinary fields, provide new insights, indicate significant cultural achievements and forge new collaborations in order to shape the outlines of the research landscape of the 21st century. Their main concern is not the future of Humanities, but the future with Humanities.
Humanities2015, 4(1), 118-130; doi:10.3390/h4010118 - published 4 February 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The humanities are going through a period of exceptional vitality characterised by the proliferation of novel interpretative frameworks, methodologies and perspectives. Yet they—and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences—feel threatened by the rising tide of research assessment which appear to be predominantly derived from the needs and experience of the physical and natural sciences and depend on the application of standardized assessment tools. This position paper intends to contribute to the debate on the current criteria of evaluation and measures for excellence in the Humanities by casting light on their conceptual implications and methodological assumptions. It argues that decisions about their relative weight are not simply technical but also reflect underlying value systems.
Humanities2015, 4(1), 109-117; doi:10.3390/h4010109 - published 4 February 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The essay focuses on the tension between the integrity of a university’s ideal or mission (academic freedom, innovation, excellence in research and teaching) and approaches to accountability that are used to monitor performance and to establish criteria for university funding. The paper examines evaluation systems and the distorting effects of the incentives some of them create, especially when different metrics are combined in order to rank academic institutions. Such league tables prioritise comparative success rather than excellence, which is not a positional good. Yet better forms of accountability are possible. Some simple aspects of academic and educational achievements can be measured reasonably accurately and are less open to manipulation. These include hours of study, standards of writing, and the amount of feedback on written work received by students.