In defense of the humanities: the joys of critical thinking


Film  Life of BrianLast month, I published an excerpt from Russian poet Joseph Brodsky‘s Nobel speech. Here’s a bit: “If art teaches anything (to the artist, in the first place), it is the privateness of the human condition. Being the most ancient as well as the most literal form of private enterprise, it fosters in a man, knowingly or unwittingly, a sense of his uniqueness, of individuality, of separateness – thus turning him from a social animal into an autonomous ‘I’. Lots of things can be shared: a bed, a piece of bread, convictions, a mistress, but not a poem by, say, Rainer Maria Rilke. A work of art, of literature especially, and a poem in particular, addresses a man tête-à-tête, entering with him into direct – free of any go-betweens – relations.

“It is for this reason that art in general, literature especially, and poetry in particular, is not exactly favored by the champions of the common good, masters of the masses, heralds of historical necessity. For there, where art has stepped, where a poem has been read, they discover, in place of the anticipated consent and unanimity, indifference and polyphony; in place of the resolve to act, inattention and fastidiousness. In other words, into the little zeros with which the champions of the common good and the rulers of the masses tend to operate, art introduces a “period, period, comma, and a minus”, transforming each zero into a tiny human, albeit not always pretty, face.”

On a lesser scale – and I do want to emphasize the qualifier “lesser” – the same holds true for the humanities in general, and critical thinking.  They provide a powerful antidote to the mob, whether in a democratic  election, or the incitement to murder.  Offhand, I can think of no better illustration than the video clip below.


One Response to “In defense of the humanities: the joys of critical thinking”

  1. Quid plura? | “…and I’ll climb the hill in my own way…” Says:

    […] Brodsky, Nobel lecture, December 8, […]