PERMANENT CRISIS: THE HUMANITIES IN A DISENCHANTED AGE
The humanities, considered by many as irrelevant for modern careers and hopelessly devoid of funding, seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis, at the mercy of modernizing and technological forces that are driving universities towards academic pursuits that pull in grant money and direct students to lucrative careers. But as Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon show, this crisis isn’t new—in fact, it’s as old as the humanities themselves.
Today’s humanities scholars experience and react to basic pressures in ways that are strikingly similar to their nineteenth-century German counterparts. The humanities came into their own as scholars framed their work as a unique resource for resolving crises of meaning and value that threatened other cultural or social goods. The self-understanding of the modern humanities didn’t merely take shape in response to a perceived crisis; it also made crisis a core part of its project. Through this critical, historical perspective, Permanent Crisis can take scholars and anyone who cares about the humanities beyond the usual scolding, exhorting, and hand-wringing into clearer, more effective thinking about the fate of the humanities. Building on ideas from Max Weber and Friedrich Nietzsche to Helen Small and Danielle Allen, Reitter and Wellmon dig into the very idea of the humanities as a way to find meaning and coherence in the world.
Out August 2021. Pre-order here.
CHARISMA AND DISENCHANTMENT: THE VOCATION LECTURES
In 1919, just months before he died unexpectedly of pneumonia, the sociologist Max Weber published two lectures that he had recently delivered at the invitation of a group of students. The question the students asked Weber to address in these lectures was simple and haunting. In a modern world characterized by the division of labor, constant economic expansion, and unrelenting change, was vocation, in intellectual work or politics, still possible? Responding to the students’ sense of urgency, Weber offered his clearest account of “the disenchantment of the world,” as well as a seminal discussion of the place of values in the university classroom and academic research. Similarly, in his politics lecture he gave students what is undoubtedly his pithiest version of his account of the nature of political authority. Weber’s attempts to rethink vocation remain as relevant and as stirring as ever.
Buy it at New York Review Books Classics.
Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in the Era of Print Saturation
A thorough rethinking of a field deserves to take a shape that is in itself new. Interacting with Print delivers on this premise, reworking the history of print through a unique effort in authorial collaboration. The book itself is not a typical monograph—rather, it is a “multigraph,” the collective work of twenty-two scholars who together have assembled an alphabetically arranged tour of key concepts for the study of print culture, from Anthologies and Binding to Publicity and Taste.
Each entry builds on its term in order to resituate print and book history within a broader media ecology throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The central theme is interactivity, in three senses: people interacting with print; print interacting with the non-print media that it has long been thought, erroneously, to have displaced; and people interacting with each other through print. The resulting book will introduce new energy to the field of print studies and lead to considerable new avenues of investigation.
The Rise of the Research University: A Source Book
The modern research university is a global institution with a rich history that stretches into an ivy-laden past, but for as much as we think we know about that past, most of the writings that have recorded it are scattered across many archives and, in many cases, have yet to be translated into English. With this book, Paul Reitter, Chad Wellmon, and Louis Menand bring a wealth of these important texts together, assembling a fascinating collection of primary sources—many translated into English for the first time—that outline what would become the university as we know it.
The editors focus on the development of American universities such as Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and the Universities of Chicago, California, and Michigan. Looking to Germany, they translate a number of seminal sources that formulate the shape and purpose of the university and place them next to hard-to-find English-language texts that took the German university as their inspiration, one that they creatively adapted, often against stiff resistance. Enriching these texts with short but insightful essays that contextualize their importance, the editors offer an accessible portrait of the early research university, one that provides invaluable insights not only into the historical development of higher learning but also its role in modern society.
Anti-Education: Friedrich Nietzsche
In 1869, at the age of twenty-four, the precociously brilliant Friedrich Nietzsche was appointed to a professorship of classical philology at the University of Basel. He seemed marked for a successful and conventional academic career. Then the philosophy of Schopenhauer and the music of Wagner transformed his ambitions. The genius of such thinkers and makers—the kind of genius that had emerged in ancient Greece—this alone was the touchstone for true understanding. But how was education to serve genius, especially in a modern society marked more and more by an unholy alliance between academic specialization, mass-market journalism, and the militarized state? Something more than sturdy scholarship was called for. A new way of teaching and questioning, a new philosophy . . .
What that new way might be was the question Nietzsche broached in five vivid, popular public lectures in Basel in 1872. Anti-Education presents a provocative and timely reckoning with what remains one of the central challenges of the modern world.
Buy it here.
Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University
Since its inception, the research university has been the central institution of knowledge in the West. Today its intellectual authority is being challenged on many fronts, above all by radical technological change. Organizing Enlightenment tells the story of how the university emerged in the early nineteenth century at a similarly fraught moment of cultural anxiety about revolutionary technologies and their disruptive effects on established institutions of knowledge.
Drawing on the histories of science, the university, and print, as well as media theory and philosophy, Chad Wellmon explains how the research university and the ethic of disciplinarity it created emerged as the final and most lasting technology of the Enlightenment. Organizing Enlightenment reveals higher education’s story as one not only of the production of knowledge but also of the formation of a particular type of person: the disciplinary self. In order to survive, the university would have to institutionalize a new order of knowledge, one that was self-organizing, internally coherent, and embodied in the very character of the modern, critical scholar.
Becoming Human: Romantic Anthropology and the Embodiment of Freedom
Immanuel Kant wrote that his infamously academic, arid philosophy posed three questions: What can I know? What can I do? What can I be permitted to hope for? He then added a fourth that he claimed would subsume them all: What is the human? This last question, he suggested, could be answered by a new science of man called anthropology. In Becoming Human, Chad Wellmon recounts the emergence of anthropology around a question that had become too capacious for a single discipline and too unstable for the distinctions that had come to ground Enlightenment modernity—distinctions between nature and culture, body and mind, human and animal, European and non-European.
If, as Friedrich Schlegel wrote, we don’t even know “what the human is,” then what would a science of the human base itself on? How would it be possible and why would it even be necessary? This book is an intellectual and literary history of how these questions took form in late eighteenth-century Germany. By examining this period of anthropological discourse through the works of thinkers such as Kant, Novalis, Schleiermacher, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Goethe, Wellmon argues that the crisis of a late eighteenth-century anthropology marks the emergence of a modernity that sees itself as condemned to draw its norms and very self-understanding from itself. Modernity became fully modern when it became fully reflexive—that is, sensitive to the paradoxical and possibly futile nature of the modern project.