At Inside Higher Ed, Stephen Brockmann, a prof of German at Carnegie Mellon, offers an essay that is in part an obituary for the academic humanities and an indictment of academia’s (and the larger culture’s) negligence in allowing the death to occur.
We humanists inherited a tradition more or less intact, with all its strengths and weaknesses, but it appears highly likely that we will not be able or willing to pass it on […] That is a signal failure, and it is one for which we will pay dearly.
And what has replaced it?
In our culture we know quite well what that is: the belief in money, in business, in economics, and in popular culture. That is our real religion, and it has largely triumphed over any tradition, either progressive or tyrannical. It is no more a coincidence that business is the most popular major in the United States today than it was that theology was one of the major fields of the 1700s.
In a related note, I was talking to my kids today about Wordsworth’s Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads. I told them that he thought
[…A] multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies. to this tendency of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the country have conformed themselves. The invaluable works of our elder writers, I had almost said the works of Shakespeare and Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.
Wordsworth even said he probably couldn’t do enough to offset that, and he didn’t know how much worse it would get — there were no Kardashians in the Lake District. But he did what he thought he could, and so does Brockmann:
[I]t would be more constructive to save what we can and pass it along to the next generation. They are waiting, and we have a responsibility.
I guess that’s what I try to do, as well. But at the end of class, I’m haunted by a vision flashing on my inward eye, and it isn’t Wordsworth’s daffodils.