Blogs > Cliopatria > Art v. History

May 11, 2004 6:57 am

Art v. History

Though she hasn't managed to post over here, yet, the most recent addition to the Cliopatria Cabal has been defending history on her own blog, The Little Professor. From whom? From ARTISTS like Helen Vendler, who apparently see historians, philosophers and literateurs as the greatest threat to a fully functional aesthetic life. Dr. Burstein's comments are learned and thorough and make a great deal of sense. My reply to Vendler is less subtle and understanding:

To make the primary conflict between art, philosophy, literature and history is to ignore the fact that all of those fundamentally humanistic disciplines are under siege from the supposedly practical economic/market disciplines, in competition with the social sciences as arbiters of humanity and struggling with the epistemological claims of the natural sciences.
In other words, Vendler needs to realize who her friends are.

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Jonathan Dresner - 5/12/2004

There are ways in which the tension between the disciplines is as productive as the combination of them in interdisciplinary scholarship: forcing us to justify our premises and methods and both immediate and deeper value. This is often played out in public fora, in discussions about primary/secondary education, core curricula, and about public policy perspectives. In these discussions, cooperation and complementarity are most fruitful approaches, though there are times when some self-assertion is called for.

There are also vicious institutional ways in which the tension is enacted, including competition over scarce resources (including internal and external funding, good students, and new positions), inflexibility in general education or specific courses of study, inability to articulate common learning objectives, and the sabotage of retention/tenure of competing departments. In these discussions, pure evangelical passion for one's own field -- disciplinary supremacism -- is the only way to avoid being rolled, or rolled over.

mark safranski - 5/12/2004

I think if you understand Physics, Philosophy and History in that order you will comprehend about as much about the world as anyone could ever reasonably expect. Art has the capacity to crystallize that understanding and sense of life and display it in a way that people can grasp the meaning intuitively and emotionally, in addition to analytically and rationally.

The former humanities disciplines are content. Art is their expression.

Grant W Jones - 5/11/2004

Under siege by economists? How do you fight their conspiracy of wealth production, which you share in? I suggest boiling oil from the ramparts.

Seriously, any number of economists also wore the hat of historian. If there is any fundemental conflict of economic history with the other branches of history, then it has been manufactured by the social historians.

Who elected academics in the humanities/social sciences as the "arbitars of humanity?" I find such a prospect scary, to say the least.

"Struggling with the epistemological claims of the natural sciences," I bet you are.

Anne Zook - 5/11/2004

Vendler said: "The arts bring into play historical and philosophical questions without implying the prevalence of a single system or of universal solutions. "

And my question is...since when?

But your response is, of course, more useful. When you stop arguing with "them" about how much of the pie you're going to get and begin to squabble amongst yourselves over the scraps you were allocated...well, then they win because they changed the terms of the debate.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2004

I've long thought that if one were organizing a liberal arts faculty, history and philosophy would be the two fields around which it might be arrayed because they are the only two from which you reach to and embrace the others. I give preference to history because of philosophy's weak sense of time. Were you to place the fictive imagination at the center, I don't know how you ever get to the hard sciences.

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