Friday, October 29, 2021

for a Literary university in a democratic ecology

for someone engaged with “scholarly work on ecology
and literary modernism” 

What Universities Owe Democracy, by John Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels et al. (Oct. 2021), inspires (for me) an idea of interplay wider than conceptions of the university and democracy:

Literary understanding <—> the university <—> democracy <—> ecological understanding.

Moreover, the interplay isn’t linear. Literary <—> democracy;
university <—> ecology; and Literary <—> ecology are equally relevant.

Indeed, a rich appreciation of ecological thinking—highly humanistic thinking—can contribute importantly to the university <—> ecology interface (which is absent from Daniels et al.’s book).

Usefully, though, they advance four foci, i.e., “four distinct functions of American higher education that are key to liberal democracy: social mobility, citizenship education, the stewardship of facts, and the cultivation of pluralistic, diverse communities” {publisher’s description].

Unfortunately, Johns Hopkins isn’t located in a “Red” state region where higher education systems might significantly advance “Blue” electoral trends, thanks to progressively more-activist higher education systems.

However, there are over 100 post-secondary institutions in and near Maryland. What’s Johns Hopkins’s exemplarity in their region? Is their engagement in the Maryland region exemplary? Can Johns Hopkins’s engagement with the Maryland region be regarded as a model that is transposable across regions?

This is not as distant from highly humanistic interests of Literary appreciation as might first appear, because Literary appreciation is axial for humanities, and humanities are foundational for humanistic literacy, social care, and educational leadership in public life.

A keynote for social mobility must be that education increases employability across its region by enabling higher adaptability and growth of flexible thinking (early childhood through college), coordinated with relevant occupational programs in community colleges. The research university c0llaborates in regional flourishing (individual, cultural, and social) across post-secondary systems; and advances excellent teaching for pre-K through 12 schools.

I have a fabulative hope that the university (generically speaking) regards its School of Education as the center of campus, rather than marginalizing the profession as, in effect, an adjunct school.

“Stewardship of facts” is essentially a matter of what stewardship is to be. At what scale and diverse ways can we best advance fidelity to humanistic interests, prevailing over technocentric interests?

That humanism is best conceived in the broadest and most authentic sense, which spans more than—but at least—the conception of “Modern Languages and Literatures” (a typical academic department rubric) which is the contemporary version of what was classically called philology. A 21st century conception of interdisciplinary studies might best be appreciated as a broadly and deeply humanistic philology. (I have that kind of fantasy in mind when I capitalize ‘literary’).

“Cultivation of communities” reminds me of Martha Nussbaum’s (and Jürgen Habermas's) longstanding advocacy of “cultivating humanity” (including intrinsic values of Literary studies, of course).

The heart of educational excellence for children is a home/school partnership of “concerted cultivation” that enables, rather than “instructs” or trains. (Teaching excellence is a dramatic art that inspires and engages, far more than representing views and disseminating information.)

How many scholarly graduate programs focus on building teaching excellence? I’ve never heard of one. How many PhDs love teaching? Many, surely; but that won’t get anybody tenure!

How many municipal school districts afford incentives for teaching excellence (and small class sizes)? (Pre-college teachers in some nations have the esteem and salary of professors in the U.S., most of whom in the U.S. are hardly even teachers, in a memorable sense.)

Often in the university, progressive practicality of educational leadership in humanities is overshadowed by want of release to do research that warrants tenure; then research funding that allows release from lecturing.

Within an academic department, the politics of that can get remarkable: competition between faculty members for T.A. funds that relieves the professor from classroom time (making the lecture hall more cost effective); competition for research funds, which can cause resentments between specialists who “know” that their work is more deserving than that of the “colleague” who gets the funding.

Such political economic conflicts echo analogous conflicts within academic senates, relative to university budget processes—which nowadays see humanities programs sidelined by attrition.

UC Berkeley used to have separate Rhetoric and Comp. Lit. departments; now they’re combined into one. Many institutions now combine philosophy and religion back into one department (as they were classically). Community colleges sometimes lump all of the humanities into a single, scaled-down “Humanities” department, as supplement to occupational training programs that are well funded by surrounding businesses in need of technical skills.

Well, OK!: Make all of the A.A. degrees highly appreciative of the humanism that makes careers and old age fulfilling.

Within departments, politics comes home in the reality that the political is essentially a private matter: In particular, latent sexism and latent racism unwittingly beg for ways through which constructive engagement with “colleagues” can be both functional and, maybe, provide teachable moments for gradually overcoming distorted feeling.

The challenge and dynamics of constructive engagement in the academic department mirrors similar challenges in the entire world of work, as well as for neighborhood and municipal prospects for community-oriented citizenship.

At the town/gown interface, academic vanity can evince perceptions of elitism in “ordinary” society (and resentment of university territorial creep into city areas)—while woke anti-sexism and anti-racism in academia mirror the challenge of gaining teachable moments in everyday life.

So, how does constructive engagement work, such that effective job relations can also heal implicit sexism and implicit racism?

It’s difficult—and beyond the scope of my present “political” discussion (which I would love to detail; I’ve deleted a lot at this point, to later flesh out separately).

But persons who think that what’s political is primarily what’s public are näive. Any professional politician knows that all politics advances privately. Of course, political life is composed of public spheres. But the origin of political interest, meaning, change, and advance is constituted interpersonally, showing at high altitude as the pointillistic trending that is only accessible statistically.

So, how can we best understand the intimacy of political change?

How does one best heal the dramas of phoniness through teaching as a way of life?

Cultivating humanity is at least a matter of time: giving time to astute attention, to long-term valuation, to astute reasoning; giving time to dissolving distortions relative to preserving and advancing genuine working relations.

Constructive engagement is also the basis for de-constructive engagement (emancipatory interest). It’s not about negating the other’s capability to distinguish their own distortions from shared interest in good relations. It’s at least about advancing respect for each other; and sustaining appreciation of the other’s self-investment in advancing integrity.

In the humanities, the paradigm is constructive engagement with a text: good faith reading by default (until that’s rationally unsustainable)—especially regarding the “alien” text: enowning the experience-distant text or “too complex” text—or appreciating ordinary interaction as text (persona vis-à-vis personality; conscious personality/ implicit self; distorted view/admirable values).

Indeed, Derrida’s theme of writing-in-speech could be tenably read as caring about interpersonal/self differences in ordinary communicative interaction as text. (That’s not obvious, but I can detail the view. Also, I would argue that speech act theory is essentially about the rhetoric of “how to do things with words,” paradigmatically in scenic interaction, i.e., oneself as performing a situationally-relative satisfaction of interest that presumes an implicit self/interpersonal difference in sense of selfidentity [lack of hyphen intended).

But self-reflective learning through the other/text calls for patient fidelity to the work of working with the other (and not being undone by therapeutic intimations).

What has become of slow reading? What has become of careful listening? What has become of thinking with another through texts, as if that is an intimate time with “you” in mind?

Such questions may seem odd, but literary work at heart is an intimate engagement.

The stewardship we need includes a feeling for good faith reading of the literal other person in interpersonal interaction, modeled in literary reading as potential intimacy of being with each other through letters—and care is the heart of heartfulness—having and giving time for concerted cultivation (be it of individuation, for scholarship, as parenting, in political life…).

Time for genuine teaching through really being “here” together is at heart a kind of learning together: A hallmark of master teaching is modeling the learning process interactively, as if the teacher is learning newly, but with “you”—you who may be a receptive text, made receptive to your venture of letting the text speak to you in an enriching way—which, of course, doesn’t ensure accuracy of reading, but surely fruitfulness of learning individuates sensibility.

Alas, professors professing views—in which their career reputations are invested—are as susceptible to sustaining discursive misprision (when youthfully establishing their early career ) as are students inevitably misreading relative to their stage of development.
discursive misprision: Desire to develop one’s own “voice” can tend to turn the other’s text into a mirror of one’s own stage of discovery, somewhat regardless of what the other / text intended to convey. The author/other becomes a fiction drawn into mirroring the reader’s re-authoring of the text as merely “itself” received.
So, what about the “ecology” of all that?: the scale of cultural ecology in interdisciplinary humanities; the scale of social ecology in regional communities; and the developmental scale of human ecology in growing up (or outgrowing distortions) in indviduation which is attuned to the holism of one’s current stage of self-actualizing capability?

The potential philological ecology of the university—enlightening, emancipatory, and therapeutic (?)—might be a wondrous thing to entertain in detail (an extensive topograpahy), engaging learners fully in the ecology of humanity, where learning never ends (even in the novelty of anticipating old age reconciliations), across the whole scale of mindfulness which can—through a fully humanistic university in its regioning—more authentically enable social life to be fairly (even beautifully) flourishing.