Oh, the Humanities! How Low Have Ye Fallen

Back in 2012, like many people do at least once in their lifetime, I went through a period of listlessness, brought on by a series of professional and financial downturns that left me disoriented on how to proceed forward with my time.  However, because I don’t see the point in boring anyone with a drawn out account of a life episode that was really filled more with trivial annoyance than any serious dilemmas, I’d instead prefer to do what we crusty writers do best: rant and rave about things experience long ago that left me perpetually disgruntled.

As mentioned above, in this frustrating time of my life I decided that it would probably do me some good to get out of the house I had been confined to for long enough to start seeing facial patterns etching away on the blank walls around me.  My first outing was to the one place I knew even I was cool enough never to feel unwanted in–the local college library.  And the fact that I had some overdue debts to take care of there was just the sort of icing needed to sweeten the deal to set forth on my gallant journey to the illustrious book depository, over yonder.

Wonderfully enough, in the course of taking care of my literary business [see what I did there? huh? huh? *wink, wink*], I stumbled upon a flyer at the library that advertised a small seminary/quasi-lecture/talkie-thingy at the college on the topic of Shakespeare, and his place within English Literature.  Leading me to think to myself:  I read Shakespeare, I’ve taught Shakespeare, maybe it would be fun to read and learn about Shakespeare with other bespectacled and pompous literature folks.  And on that thought, I was wrong.  Because, you see, this talk on Shakespeare wasn’t really about discussing Shakespeare’s work as much as it was about [some academic I’ve never heard of], “radically exposing the cultural dogma in the hitherto accepted canon of English literature.”  Yeah, man, getting radical…about literature; the safest of all forms of rebellion for such tenured mavericks.

The first thing we in the audience were treated to in this discussion was the revelation that William Shakespeare (yes, the William Shakespeare) was essentially a stooge of the English aristocracy, and his plays illustrate the lowest common denominator in serving as authoritarian mouthpieces.  You see, because Shakespeare never urged his audience masses to rise against the authority they stood under, his primary role in the history books deserves to reside as a man complicit in promoting the authoritarian status quo.  Furthermore, it was suggested (by this same academic) that this is the very reason that Shakespeare is so highly esteemed in the literary canon of English departments today–because the man’s work subtly teaches us to accept The Powers That Be presiding above us, and act with complacency towards it for the sake of not rocking the boat (or, I suppose, spoiling the entertainment) for everybody else.

Interesting hypothesis.  However, when it came time for the Q&A portion of the talk I couldn’t help but raise a note of observation that should have been more than obvious to the maverick intellectual.  Namely–I asked the gentlemen–if it is true that the English departments of today hold Shakespeare in such high esteem because they need him to promote complacency about the authoritarian forces ruling over us, does it not also follow that he too (the speaker for the evening) holds a share of the guilt, as he seems to happily accept a wage, speaking engagements, and (I’m presuming) book deals, by these same stooges of (evil, capital-A) Authority?  In fact, doesn’t his agreeing to be there that evening, in an event sponsored by these same mouthpieces for authoritarianism, without a word of urging on behalf of a mass uprising against The Powers That Be holding dominance over us, complicit him as much as Shakespeare’s lack of rebellion against the authoritarian aristocracy of his day?

The gentleman’s response: although he is more than happy to accept challenges to his ideas, he believed everyone’s time would be much better served not engaging with such blatant, baseless ad hominem attacks.  And one look around the audience showed that they were in agreement with him, so the evening continued unmolested, with everyone seemingly pretending I wasn’t even present from there on out.

Ah, the great spirit of 21st Century Humanities scholarship.  Where every sociopolitical idea and hypothesis at least halfway, and half-brained, conceived innately ascends above such pesky things like critical examination, or verifiable data.  With such intellectual rigor leading the way, I just can’t for the life of me figure out why a Liberal Arts education is seen as a joke by the rest of the academic community these days.

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The Illusion of Urgency

Modern life seems fast-paced, yet largely immobile.  I sit behind a desk most of the day (with the exception of the times I’m running from one unit to the next; but even then, my movements are confined to a narrow spot).  And when I do need to change locations, I sit in a car or bus to do so.  Hence, I’m never really actively moving in any of these given situations, I’m just being sort of passively transported so I can resume my stationary posture at another location.  Nevertheless, I feel an unyielding sense of urgency throughout much of the day.  The hours are going by quickly, even as I’m doing nothing of interest.  Sometimes, I find myself suddenly getting up with a great leap of determination and purpose, eagerly entering an adjacent room, only to have my mind completely space out on what it was exactly I wanted to do/get from therein.  (Which then, of course, leaves me with the awkward burden of having to invent some sort of rationale for my behavior by picking up something irrelevant, or curiously looking over some item or another, lest I feel misplaced for entering a room for no reason.  And I do this despite being aware fully that there is no one around to judge my odd behavior.)

Throughout most of human history, I imagine the norm was the other way around; life was largely slow-paced, but highly mobile.  If all you did for a lifetime was work in the field from dawn to dusk (as some of my cousins out in the country still do), your day was fairly monotone, though very active; leaving the body too tired for any odd quirks in mannerisms.  Modern life is also tiring, but our mental sensory is also overstimulated.  My attention span has been greatly warped by the one-click, multitasking nature of what passes for a normal work day, that I find it hard to sit through a whole television program without feeling the desire to pause and do something unrelated for a second or two, before returning to the program (I imagine this is why online viewing is so much more appealing these days–it gives a greater impression of control to the audience).

It’s not ADD or ADHD, by any means, because it’s not about focus, but speed (or the illusion thereof).  Like changing gears on a highway to match the speed of the other cars around you; everything around me seems to be going at full speed, causing me to increase my pace just to appease the high-speed environment I’m finding myself in.  Yet, as I said before, daily life is largely immobile.  Therefore, what I’m left with is this mental impression, this urgency, to act on something or another, but find the lack of motility and space offered by modern life insufficient in satisfying this urge.

It is an illusion of urgency, where none may even exist.  And even though I recognize the superficiality of this on a conscious level, on some prime impulse I can’t help but feel relentlessly anxious to both slow down and speed up at the same time.  With contradictory impulses like this plaguing the mind, it’s no surprise that the psychiatric and psychedelic industry–is there any longer a difference between the two?–is recession-proof.