If you’re tired of all the war-talk – I mean ‘war on the humanities’ talk – then try Anthony Galluzzo on teaching the humanities at the US Military Academy at West Point (yes): Sarah Lawrence, with guns, over at Jacobin.
“I agreed with a lot of what you said today, Professor Galluzzo,” he said. “But don’t you think there’s a difference between imaginary others and actual people you meet on the ground, in a place like Afghanistan? Can’t fantasies also reinforce stereotypes?” He articulated my own misgivings. I suggested he read Edward Said.
Although Greg didn’t know the book, his questions reminded me that Orientalism – a text and term often invoked by many of my West Point colleagues at the time as what “we” weren’t doing over there – is very much about the ideological misuse of imaginative literature in the service of nineteenth-century imperialism.
More (and older) thoughts from another instructor at a military academy, Lucretia Flammang, here: ‘We would not have a literature of modern war if warriors had not written it.’
And while we’re on the subject: last year US News and World Report named the US Military Academy at West Point and the US Naval Academy at Annapolis as the best public liberal arts colleges in the United States…
I’m as sceptical of the rankings game as you are, but I’m left wondering about the rhetorical effect of reports like this on an American public.
And all this certainly reminds us that the history of the humanities has been intimately entwined with the history of war in ways that transcend any simple (and usually noble) vision of the humanities representing and reflecting on human conflict (see, for example, Harvard’s Drew Faust here). We know from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and others some of the ways in which violence has been written in to the very constitution of the humanities, but it’s surely time to return to those questions and think, more concretely, about these martial Arts of ours…
If you think so too, then (to start the conversation) see Homi Bhabha speaking on The Humanities and the Anxiety of Violence earlier this year here.