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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

Professor Michael O'Brien, 13 April 1948–6 May 2015.

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
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