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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Monday, April 26, 2010

So That’s Why We Need Literary Theorists!

Posted by Rohan Maitzen on 04/26/10 at 05:59 PM

Chad Gaffield, the President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, recently defended his literary consitutuents against charges that their research is not relevant outside the academy:

Does Canada need students studying fields such as literary theory? More than ever, if we can judge by the example of scholars like Ian Lancashire, an English professor from the University of Toronto, and his colleague Graeme Hirst, a computational linguist, who topped the New York Times annual list of the best ideas of 2009. Their idea was to analyze Agatha Christie’s novels based on the knowledge that written vocabulary changes subtly but perceptively with the onset of dementia. Their textual analysis demonstrated for the first time that the prolific Christie did, in fact, write her last novels while suffering from Alzheimer’s. Moreover, their work suggests new diagnostic tools for identifying the initial onset of dementia which, in turn, make possible new preventive treatments.

(read the rest of the article here)

Although I appreciate why he would choose this example, it strikes me as a bad choice nonetheless, for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that this project (interesting as it sounds, in its own way) has very little to do with what we usually mean by “literary theory.” At least as importantly, it seems to me to play into the hands of those who want to measure all research by the same utilitarian standards. I’m reminded of Mark Slouka’s rousing piece in Harper’s a while back: as he says, “It can be touching to watch supporters of the arts contorting themselves to fit. . . . We can do this! We can make the case to management!”


With friends like that . . . .

By Bill Benzon on 04/26/10 at 09:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My feeling exactly, Bill: though I have tried since the piece came out to respond more sympathetically to it, this is the man who speaks for us at the very top levels. (SSHRC hands out most of the research funding for both faculty and graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, so he really is the point man, nationally, for these issues.) I’m sure the political reality is that impassioned statements about the intrinsic value of the humanities get him nowhere, though.

By Rohan Maitzen on 04/26/10 at 10:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m in the process of enjoying Nussbaum’s Not for Profit:  Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, but I question her decision on four or five occasions to say, while outlining what the humanities teach us, “And businesses value these capabilities too!”

By on 04/30/10 at 03:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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