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Experts in the humanities to
discuss future of their discipline
Lynn, Humanities Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Three distinguished speakers whose works have influenced the direction
of humanities scholarship in the United States will participate in a
free public discussion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Stanley Fish, Cary Nelson and E. Ann Kaplan will discuss the prospects
for the humanities at 2 p.m. Oct. 22 (Friday) in Foellinger Auditorium,
709 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana. The event, sponsored by the Illinois
Program for Research in the Humanities, is titled “The Future
of the Humanities: A Discussion on Truth, Politics and the Academy.”
Fish is dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at
the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also is a distinguished professor
of English, political science and criminal justice, and the chair of
the religious studies committee at UIC. Widely regarded as one of America’s
most prominent intellectuals and a longtime leader of the humanities,
Fish was chair of Duke University’s influential English department.
Nelson is Jubilee Professor of Liberal
Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the Urbana campus. Among the country’s most influential radical
intellectuals, he is a founding member of Illinois’ Unit
for Criticism and Interpretive Theory and is closely associated
with the field of cultural studies, which he helped introduce to the
Kaplan, a professor of English at the State University of New York at
Stony Brook, will serve as moderator of the discussion. At the forefront
of the academic humanities for several decades, she is the founding
director of the Humanities Institute at SUNY-Stony Brook and has made
pioneering contributions to the application of humanist and feminist
scholarship to popular culture.
The event inaugurates an IPRH initiative on the state of humanities
Among the questions the participants will consider: What is the role
of the humanities today? How do the humanities function politically?
Can the search for truth be a goal of the humanities? Has the postmodern
paradigm exhausted itself? Will the humanities still exist in 30 years?
According to Matti Bunzl, IPRH director, something is afoot in the humanities.
“Apocalyptic pronouncements of imminent demise may be exaggerated,
but signposts of transformation abound.”
Bunzl, a professor of anthropology at the U. of I., said that over the past few decades the leading lights
of humanist scholarship have, “with considerable unanimity, spoken
for a certain postmodern consensus. Wielding the tools of theory, and
brandishing their political commitments, they have decried objectivity,
rationalism and truth. Entire (anti) disciplines sprung from their pronouncements:
cultural studies, postcolonial studies, queer studies, etc.
“Recent events, though, suggest a turning of tides, or at least
a rethinking of paradigms.”
Fish, for example, closely associated with certain trends in postmodernism
and poststructuralism, recently caused a stir with a series of opinion
pieces that diagnosed a crisis in humanistic scholarship and urged a
return to the “pursuit of truth,” as he sees it.
In a May 2004 essay in The New York Times, Fish wrote about a deep malaise
in humanistic scholarship. Formerly representing the vanguard of American
postmodernism, he railed against its excesses.
“Deploring the university’s politicization, he made a radical
suggestion: Rather than fostering irresponsible citizenship and immoral
behavior, the academy’s goal should be the search for truth and
the dissemination of it through teaching,” Bunzl said.
A scholar of English literature by training, Fish is the author of such
widely influential books as “Professional Correctness: Literary
Studies and Political Change” and “How Milton Works.”
Fish recently was quoted as saying, “No doubt, the practices of
responsible citizenship and moral behavior should be encouraged in our
young adults, but it’s not the business of the university to do
so, except when the morality in question is the morality that penalizes
cheating, plagiarizing and shoddy teaching, and the desired citizenship
is defined not by the demands of democracy, but by the demands of the
A scholar of American poetry, Nelson is the author of important publications
such as “Higher Education Under Fire: Politics, Economics, and
the Crisis of the Humanities,” “Manifesto of a Tenured Radical”
and “Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American
Left.” Nelson’s latest book, “Office Hours: Activism
and Change in the Academy,” co-written by Stephen Watt, was published
Nelson recently said: “All culture is and always has been political,
just as all cultural participation is politicized. It’s not a
matter of choice, but people in higher education are free to choose
from among the roles available to them, from activism to avoidance to
Among Kaplan’s many publications are “Looking for the Other:
Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze” and “Playing Dolly:
Technocultural Formations, Fantasies, and Fictions of Artificial Reproduction.”
Kaplan was recently quoted as saying: “Surely one can change the
world precisely by interpreting it. To deny this is to deny the power
of discourse in nature.”
For more information, contact IPRH at 217-244-3344 or visit its Web