Monday, September 21, 2015

Rita Felski Calls for Latourian Humanities

She points out (Doing the Humanities with Bruno Latour) that critique is over-rated:
Helen Small writes: “the work of the humanities is frequently descriptive, or appreciative, or imaginative, or provocative, or speculative, more than it is critical.” This seems exactly right. That intellectuals in the humanities so often invoke “critique” as a guiding ethos and principle may speak to the stubborn persistence of an either/or mindset: the fear that if one is not negating the status quo, one is therefore being co-opted by it. The practices of academic life may turn out to be more messy, more ambiguous, and more interesting. And it is here that I found Bruno Latour’s work very helpful in working through a different set of ideas on why the humanities matter.

Can we develop a defense of the humanities that is not anchored exclusively in the value of “critical thinking”? Are there other attitudes, actions, orientations in play? To what extent are humanists engaged in practices of making as well as unmaking, composing as well as questioning, creating as well as subverting? And can we talk about the social ties of the humanities in ways that avoid the dichotomy of heroic opposition or craven cooption? Perhaps we need a multi-dimensional defense of the humanities; one that accumulates rationales rather than limiting them or narrowing them down. Today I offer four terms: curating, conveying, criticizing; composing—hoping that the lure of alliteration will not overly compromise the force of my argument! (I make no attempt to be comprehensive and welcome other suggestions about what the humanities do and how we do the humanities).
FWIW, Felski edits New Literary History, which is where Latour published "Steps Toward the Writing of a Compositionist Manifesto" in 2010.

I've written a bit about compositionism here at New Savanna, and called for compositionist literary studies a couple of years ago.

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