Thursday, September 13, 2012

News x 3

1.  Epstein on the state of the liberal arts

Have I said that I very much like Joseph Epstein? I feel sure that I've mentioned his wonderful essay on Isaac Bashevis Singer. Here's a new essay of his that is in part a review of Andrew Delbanco's College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be but is also a frank, interesting response to the current state of the liberal arts on campus.

Clip: The death of liberal arts education would constitute a serious subtraction. Without it, we shall no longer have a segment of the population that has a proper standard with which to judge true intellectual achievement. Without it, no one can have a genuine notion of what constitutes an educated man or woman, or why one work of art is superior to another, or what in life is serious and what is trivial. The loss of liberal arts education can only result in replacing authoritative judgment with rivaling expert opinions, the vaunting of the second- and third-rate in politics and art, the supremacy of the faddish and the fashionable in all of life. Without that glimpse of the best that liberal arts education conveys, a nation might wake up living in the worst, and never notice.

2. Collaborating with Clive

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is judging the Fox Open Art Competition on the Channel Islands, and concurrently having a solo show of new art work (including images from The Foliate Head and forthcoming Thaliad.) It's called The Greening, and will be at the Jersey Art Centre. On the wrong side of the puddle? You can take a peek here.

3.  Emissary

Before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. -Ecclesiastes

It's the wee hours, and I am grief-struck by catching sight of an image of our ambassador's murdered, dishonored body dragged through the streets while terrorists snap photos on their phones . . . The beautiful idea of the emissary and his permission to walk safely in alien lands has been a part of civilization for a long time.

I consider my blog mainly a place for news about books--mine or otherwise--and sometimes for more personal comments. It is a politics-free zone. But there is something about sorrow for others never known and for a human ideal crushed under foot that can feel personal. I feel it so.

Update: I'm looking at the comments and numbers of visitors (the two not always correlated, though common sense suggests that they would be) to posts and feeling surprised at what receives most attention. I wouldn't mind a bit if passers-by left a note about what they would most like to see on the blog this winter. (I am planning on doing some posts related to this year's reading project, but that can't come until near the end of the year. Otherwise I am as flighty and changeable as ever. I have had a recent request for a visit from the Pot Boy. I might or might not include more Tinies. I'll probably do some posts about friends with new books. Etc. Suggestions and questions welcome.)


  1. Responses....
    Well, let's just say I have just read the links to the Liberal Arts discussions and next will go to see The Greening competition link.
    Well - after coffee and getting the day more 'together'.

    Your posting works me. HAHA!
    (But in a good way. I had not even heard much of 'The Liberal Arts' until I had waded though them for a few years in the UK! I think we called them, 'Humanities'. Same approach, same lines of study).
    So now I feel old and tardy and will come back to the rest of this blog posting after life-revival!

  2. I have no checklist for Tardies...

    And let's just invoke Shakespeare: "To me, fair friend, you never shall be old."

    "Liberal arts" also identifies a type of college and education... As, Bard rather than R. I. T.

  3. The liberal arts aka humanities seem to be under attack here too, with the attackers saying students need to be taking courses that will give them a job (doctors, lawyers, engineers...) upon graduation. The proponents say that liberal arts teach critical thinking (which I say you need in the former too, hmmm.)

    I like your blog just the way it is and will be happy with whatever you will decide to post.

  4. Satisfied, huh? I suppose that's good, is it? I can just be lazy and wander on in my own style!

    Yes, I think liberal arts study is a great foundation for the professions.

    My husband (who was the sort of high schooler who acted and drew and so on, and who people thought would be a writer or maybe a bum!) is an academic neurologist. Critical thinking: yes, I'm sure it helps. I also believe he has an extra gift through a developed imagination--according to what I've heard from others, he seems to have a gift in making diagnoses that comes from the ability to make imaginative leaps.

  5. I too like your blog as it is. The trouble is I often think I'd just like to be able to have a chat to you about the things you raise rather than try to formulate a lonely little self-important comment!

    One of the things that interests me about the Liberal Arts is the etymology of the term, and the implications of the misunderstandings that it provokes. As I'm sure you know, it derives from the Latin for book. However, it's often assumed that it's related to the word liberal denoting freedom, with its various political associations, which in their turn have a different slant in the Anglo world from elsewhere. Here in France it has connotations of free-market, economic liberalism that are considered right-wing and generally negative, rather than standing for tolerance and egalitarianism as it does in Britain and the US,(or with a large L in the UK, as third party, middle-way thinking, or it did till they threw in their lot with the Conservatives...). This in turn gets to be pejorative in conservative parlance, as in bleeding-heart, wishy-washy, etc.

    So the idea of the liberal arts gets tarred with whatever brush the other sense of liberal tends to carry, as well as implying an ennobling sense of freedom of spirit.

    Which is perhaps only obliquely related to your point. 'Humanities' is an uncertain term, which sometimes only refers to geography and history, and sometimes to anything which can't be called science. I'm not sure it corresponds to the liberal arts.

    I thought the ambassador looked a good man, he reminded me a little of a retired American diplomat here who is a good friend of ours, which somehow made the shock sharper. 'Emissary' is a powerful word indeed.

  6. If I ever make it to France, we'll have a nice chat in your lovely re-pointed house!

    Like your discussion of the word... Perhaps we shall have to invent a whole new one. Which will then accrue new detritus...

    Yes, powerful and beautiful.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.