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Humanism Betrayed

Humanism Betrayed: Theory, Ideology, and Culture in the Contemporary University

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Humanism Betrayed
    Book Description:

    The intellectual trends Good discusses include what he calls the New Sectarianism, which rejects individuality in favour of collective identities based on race, gender, and sexual preference; Presentism, which rejects the notion of history as a continuous narrative in favour of seeing the past as interpretable in any way that suits the political interests of the present; and a "hermeneutic of suspicion," in which literary texts are seen as masks for discreditable political motives. Good demonstrates that these trends culminate in the prison-like "carceral" vision of Michel Foucault and his followers: the view that culture is ideology and that culture does not free humans but incarcerates them. Good contrasts this view with the liberal vision of culture and society represented by Northrop Frye, concluding with an analysis of the relationship between anti-humanist theory among academics and the managerial practices of university administrations, which, he argues, neglect or reject basic humanistic values such as free individuality, aesthetic greatness, and autonomous inquiry.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6923-2
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    This book offers a defence of liberal humanism as a philosophy of higher education, particularly in the humanities, against the illiberal trends, political and intellectual, that are currently dominating the university. I also advocate it more generally as a philosophy of social and political action in the present and as a tradition by which we inherit key values from the past. The basic tenets of liberalism (which are implicitly also humanist) are well summarized by John Gray: ”It is individualist, in that it asserts the moral primacy of the person against any collectivity; egalitarian, in that it confers on all...

  5. 1 Political Correctness in Canada: The McEwen Report on the Political Science Department at UBC
    (pp. 9-21)

    “Political correctness” has become a popular phrase because it catches a certain kind of self-righteous and judgmental tone in some and a pervasive anxiety in others – who, fearing they may do something wrong, adjust their facial expressions and pause in their speech to make sure they are not doing or saying anything inappropriate. The climate this has created on campuses is at least as bad in Canada as in the United States. Many of the worst episodes across the country have been documented and analysed in John Fekete’sMoral Panic: Biopolitics Rising(1995) and Peter Emberley’sZero Tolerance(1996). Further,...

  6. 2 The New Sectarianism: Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation
    (pp. 22-38)

    The McEwen affair at UBC is only one example of the way university politics in Canada is affected by the new sectarianism – the divisive categorization of people by race, gender, and sexual preference. Both the individuality of humans and their membership in the universal category of humanity are rejected or downplayed in favour of these specific categories of identity, which are felt to divide human experience so radically that a person from one category should not or cannot speak about the experience of a person from another. These categories are the modern equivalent of the estates of prerevolutionary France or...

  7. 3 Theory 1: Marx, Freud, Nietzsche
    (pp. 39-50)

    For a long time, English was a subject without a theory. How could there be a theory of something so personal, so indefinable, so elusive as literature? The very word “theory” seemed arid and cerebral, alien to the sensuous particularity of great poetry, drama, and fiction. Wellek and Warren’sTheory of Literature(1951) was dutifully handed out to a generation of graduate students, but to many it seemed foreign to Anglo-American ideas of literary education; they found it slightly pretentious and somehow continental, like the intellectual refugees from Europe who joined English-speaking universities from the late 1930s on. When challenged...

  8. 4 Theory 2: Constructionism, Ideology, Textuality
    (pp. 51-62)

    Constructionism is the belief that representation constructs rather than renders its object. This is the basis of Theory’s epistemological radicalism. Constructionism is actually more pervasive and important in contemporary Theory than deconstructionism, which is simply its corollary: if all representations create rather than portray their objects, their claims to convey information about reality should be easy to deconstruct. Furthermore, Theory holds that society rather than the individual does the constructing; and that society constructs the individual as well. Subjective identities as well as objective phenomena are seen as “socially constructed.” Similarly, pictures, even photographs, are held to create an image...

  9. 5 Presentism: Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, Postcolonialism
    (pp. 63-74)

    Just as textualism dissolves subject and object, author and reader, into the swamp of textuality, so does presentism dissolve past and future into the quagmire of the present. Presentism is the belief in the primacy of the present and the refusal to be guided by a vision either of the past or of the future. It repudiates historicism and holds that we cannot know the truth of the past “as it really was” (in the German historian von Ranke’s phrase), and that the past never has been knowable, though nineteenth-century historians pretended or believed that it was. Now, says presentism,...

  10. 6 The Carceral Vision: Geertz, Greenblatt, Foucault, and Culture as Constraint
    (pp. 75-88)

    Both Hamlet’s vision of world culture as a set of prisons (his own being one of the worst)andhis solipsism (thought creates reality) are characteristic of today’s cultural studies. Hamlet chose Wittenberg as his university, where radical faculty such as Luther and Faustus were the historical or mythical equivalents of Derrida and Foucault. Today it is easy to imagine him choosing Paris, like Laertes, though for different reasons, and becoming a brilliant graduate student of Theory and cultural studies. It is unlikely he would be an orthodox one, however, since he casually concedes that Rosencrantz’s sense of freedom is...

  11. 7 The Liberal Humanist Vision: Northrop Frye and Culture as Freedom
    (pp. 89-102)

    Northrop Frye could well be taken as the central representative of literary study in the period from 1945 to 1970, despite the opposition which his systematizing approach aroused in some of the New Critics, such as W.K. Wimsatt. Frye’s 1947 book on Blake,Fearful Symmetry, became a cult book among graduate students in the late 1940s, while hisAnatomy of Criticism(1957 ) seemed finally to promise a coherent rationale and structure for critical work. Frye’s influence was at its peak in the 1960s, when he held a succession of prestigious visiting lectureships and was made the subject of an...

  12. Conclusion: The Hegemony of Theory and the Managerial University
    (pp. 103-110)

    The liberal humanist idea of the university is basically collegial; it consists of a community of individualities brought together by a common love of learning. This ideal is now being replaced by a new concept: a system of information services, targeted client categories, and collective research projects. The double autonomy of the liberal university – the freedom of the institution from control by government, business, or pressure groups of other kinds, and the freedom of the individual professor from conformist pressures within the university – are both being eroded. The distinct character of the university, the sense that it is an organization...

  13. References
    (pp. 111-116)
  14. Index
    (pp. 117-119)