This being the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday here in the States, I was going to extend my Pre-Inaugural Poetry Break for another day, but a typically unsentimental commentary by Stanley Fish in the Times warrants notice. Fish has long advocated for the self-sufficient, thought-for-thought's sake status of the humanities in education; that is, a la Harold Bloom, he decries any notion that the humanities make us "better" people in any broad or conventional way, but he sees this as their great merit, that they are (in ways that I would view as quasi-spiritual) ends in themselves and not means to (allegedly greater) social ends.
He likely still thinks this about the general nature of the humanities, but he has decided that their place in the contemporary university is all but gone, except for a view lonely redoubts that he quaintly terms "museums." Universities are increasingly blatant in their roles as essentially customer-friendly vocational schools, aiming to endow students with the "skills" necessary for "today's economy." Because the arts, literature and philosophy do not obviously or simplistically provide such skills, they are increasingly dispensable and barely even demand lip-service.
So I am reminded not only of my post of a few days ago, in which reading in general threatened to become an "arcane hobby," but also of a couple of trends in medical education. One is the inevitable erosion of psychoanalytic and, in a wider sense, humanistic thought on psychiatry and psychiatric education over the past twenty years or more. This is convincingly analogous to the process Fish describes.
The second and ironic evolution or, rather perhaps, reaction, has been the attempt to restore interest in narrative to medical education and discourse. This quixotic project, in which I played an exceedingly obscure role in the past, seems a bit like trying to open a lending library inside a video arcade, but stranger things have happened. Yet in general the sense is that we have entered a more crass and mercantile age--but this too shall pass, even if after our lifetimes. Meanwhile, enclaves of enlightenment will go on.
But, for the poem I had in mind for today, befitting this final day of a dank, dim, and dispiriting age in American politics, I summon that sour, dour Californian Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962):
Shine, Perishing Republic
While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and
decadence; and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it
stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine,
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the
thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there
are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught--they say--
God, when he walked on earth.
(Note: poem format, but not content, altered to fit blog platform).
If this republic was "perishing" in 1925, what is it now--darkest undead? Is resurrection possible, by degrees? Perhaps eight years will suffice.