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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 October 2015


It is said we are in trouble, we humanists. “The humanities are under pressure all over the world, Rens Bod begins (xii). James Turner ends, “Without question, the humanities now face greater flux than they have routinely endured in the past century” (385). The trouble and the flux seem to take two forms. There is the usual business of intellectual disciplines forming and re-forming, of new paradigms restructuring institutions, a process that one might regard as discomforting but sometimes healthy. But there is the other business of universities being governed by anti-intellectuals, aficionados of the spreadsheet, counted beans, and the alumni dinner. These predators roam campuses, sneer at libraries, abolish departments, and plan the day when, the cost-effective triumphant, scholarship will be little more than a digital ghost. At the University of Essex, lately Marina Warner was coldly informed of this new order, defined by a “Tariff of Expectations” (seventeen targets to be met) and a “workload allocation” handed down from on high. There was an indifference to what had gone before, what creative people had once hoped for for Colchester. “That is all changing now,” the executive dean for humanities briskly explained. “That is over.” The past, that is. Fed up, Warner resigned, hearing too loudly “the tick of the deathwatch beetle” in the fabric of the house she wished to inhabit, a university that valued scholarship and the life of the mind, as it once had.

Review Essays
Copyright © Michael O'Brien 2015 

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1 Warner, Marina, “Diary: Why I Quit,” London Review of Books, 36 (11 Sept. 2014), 42–3Google Scholar.

2 Strachey, Lytton, “The Sad Story of Dr. Colbatch,” in Strachey, , Portraits in Miniature (London, 1931), 60–69, at 60–61Google Scholar.

3 Grafton, Anthony, Most, Glenn W., and Settis, Salvatore, eds., The Classical Tradition (Cambridge, MA, 2010), 826–30Google Scholar.

4 Kennedy, George, The Art of Persuasion in Greece (London, 1963), 7Google Scholar.

5 Aristotle, “Poetics,” ed. and trans. Halliwell, Stephen, in Aristotle, Poetics/Longinus, On the Sublime/Demetrius, On Style (Cambridge, MA, 1995), 5961Google Scholar.

6 Quintilian, Quintilian: The Orator's Education, vol. 4, ed. and trans. Russell, Donald A., Loeb Classical Library, vol. 494 (Cambridge, MA, 2001), 269Google Scholar.

7 Skinner, Quentin, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge, 1996), 23CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Grafton, Anthony, What Was History? The Art of History in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2007), 11, 21Google Scholar.

9 See, for example, the essays in Turner, James, Language, Religion, Knowledge: Past and Present (Notre Dame, IN, 2003)Google Scholar.

10 I do not find his rationale, which posits an intrinsic opposition between philosophy and philology, to be convincing: “For most of this long evolutionary history, philosophers understood their studies as the opposite of philology, rhetoric, and antiquarianism. Philosophy was logical, deductive, precise in conclusions, dismissive of change over time. Philology was interpretive, empirical, treating in probabilities, drenched in history” (381, original emphasis).

11 I say “mature scholarship” because his first book is more interested in the demotic: see Turner, James, Reckoning with the Beast: Animals, Pain, and Humanity in the Victorian Mind (Baltimore, 1980)Google Scholar.