Halberstam vs. Davidson & Goldberg: How to Re-Shape the Humanities

First of all, the two articles to which I’m referring are “Unlearning” (Halberstam) and “A Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age” (Davidson & Goldberg). Both articles propose ways in which we, as members of the discipline of the humanities, can contribute to its lasting relevance in society. However, I believe that Davidson and Goldberg, although published earlier than Halberstam, get the gist of it.

I’ll admit to getting lost in the middle of Halberstam’s musings, finding 50% of his essay to be off the mark. He goes through this whole argument about how Steve Jobs funded Pixar as a pseudo anti-capitalist plot and builds an argument for how A Bug’s Life is a chronicle made to teach the youth of America how to band together against the 1%. (Now, of course, it’s extremely important to consider the context in which Halberstam’s paper comes to us: 2012, in the height of the Occupy movements.) He believes that Pixar and its films lead to the development a generation of young Americans who can see beyond themselves and can frame their worldview in the collective. I’m not sure that I can get on board with his logic here. While I can see the merit in thinking beyond oneself and being willing to work with and for others, and I can certainly see the application of that sort of thinking in redesigning the humanities, I just don’t like the frame of his argument. It seems too sensational and political for the sake of being sensational and political.

However, Davidson & Goldberg argue the same thing in a less politically charged way, and for me, that makes more sense. I understand that it’s impossible to separate politics and the discussion of the cultural relevance (and importance) of the humanities, but when the information and the tenets of the argument are presented altogether more objectively, I find myself nodding along more. I like that Davidson & Goldberg outline the applications of the humanities so clearly that anyone, regardless of any political leaning, would have a hard time finding fault with them. These authors, too, call for a more collaborative discipline, but they do so in a way that makes sense for the humanities and doesn’t just skip to the more broad sense of the sociological implications. Their thinking is more focused and therefore more useful going forward. There’s groundwork–there’s a foundation.

Both essays, though, underscore the need for something to happen; stasis isn’t an option. The times are already changing, so we can either change with them and adapt our discipline for new cultural needs, or we can continue down the path to decreasing relevance. For the sake of me and my fellow almost-grads, I’m hoping the humanities opts for the former.

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