Fall Waxing Harvest Moon
With Latin, the Baroque and a sermon on the future of liberal thought all coming up this week and the next, plus the horticultural fall chores: plant bulbs, clean up, harvest the last of the vegetable crop and care for the bees, I react strongly to the recent closing down of humanities classes in SUNY.
There is hope, though, since the humanities are academic disciplines that can be done at home with little discernible drop in quality. Yes, there’s the problem of training the next generation in how to do the work at home. It may be time for the disintermediation of the University’s original core curriculum, putting it on the web and in personal relationships, mentoring. It may be time for Western culture to imitate the Chinese literati, the Mandarin bureaucrats who ran the country while painting, writing poetry, playing the Qin, doing calligraphy and focusing on the Tao.
Let’s get a dialogue going about how we can preserve the humanities one classic at a time, one work of fine art at a time, one poem at a time, one language at a time, one faith tradition at a time. Like the Great Work, creating a benign human presence on the earth, we must also labor to produce a humane human presence. It is no easy task and one that requires facility in a number of areas: literature, history, language, art history, the history of faith traditions. We must not let the sacred deposit that reflects on our common life wither into dusts.
Perhaps we need a new renaissance, a new enlightenment, ones that focus no longer on the application of science and technology, but instead return to the big questions: Why are we here? What is justice? What is beauty? What is a nation? Why do we fight? Who was Ozymandias? What is Baroque music? How many administrators can dance on the head of the department of science? What is life? What does it mean to be human?
This is not an anti-science rant, science is fine; let’s not, however, throw out teaching the question askers of culture, the critics of public life, the dancers, painters and poets. We need them, too, to know what to do with what science produces, in part, yes, but more to remind us that we have a past and that our big questions are similar and often the same as the big questions of that past. That thought and that art helps us today. Right now.