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Category: The Humanities

Rotten STEM: How Technology Corrupts Education

The U.S. education system spent more than $26 billion on tech­nology in 2018. That’s larger than the entire Israeli military budget. By one estimate, annual global spending on technology in schools will soon total $252 billion. But the technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development and an unredeemable waste…

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Houellebecq’s Unfinished Critique of Liberal Modernity

For a brief moment, just before the end of Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Sérotonine, a ray of hope seems to galvanize its protagonist. For a short while he seems to recover his lust for life. Having languished for years without a sense of purpose…

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Literature as Flattery

In 1934, the Saturday Review of Literature published an ad on how to read James Joyce’s Ulysses. The ad is remarkable for its relationship to reading, democracy, and elitism. On the one hand, the ad dismisses critics who fret over the difficulty of the novel and presents it as a challenge that is rewarding to every…

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The Illiberal Arts

For thousands of years, the liberal arts were not liberal, and that is why they are increasingly unwelcome in our time. An honest study of the past is unsettling in a liberal age, because a person who learns to venerate earlier cultural traditions, from Homer to the baroque, may come to venerate the values to…

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What V. S. Naipaul Taught Me about Posturing

Readers rightly praise V. S. Naipaul’s incandescent prose, his narrative power, and his bracing sense of humor. But for me his art also had another value: Naipaul taught me the value of honesty over posturing. We posture when we pretend to have feelings and opinions that we do not really have. The emotional honesty of…

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There Is No Case for the Humanities

The humanities are not just dying. By some measures, they are almost dead. In Scotland, the ancient Chairs in Humanity (which is to say, Latin) have almost disappeared in the last few decades: abolished, left vacant, or merged into chairs of classics. So too in the same period, the University of Oxford revised its famed…

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How Not to Defend the Humanities

In Renaissance Italy, the birthplace of the humanities, there were people who believed in literature. Not just people who read literature, wrote literature, studied literature, professed literature, packaged and sold literature, as today, but people who really believed in it. They believed that certain old books—containing poetry, history, moral philosophy, drama, oratory—could reshape the souls…

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