Category Archives: Writing

What is the Humanities?

First effort. Working draft.

The Humanities is the interdisciplinary study of history, philosophy, art and the cultural productions of disparate human communities. Because of its capaciousness this field of inquiry tends to privilege holistic thinking: making connections across historical periods, cultural traditions and geographical spaces.

In a single Humanities course, for instance, students might study Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Oubrerie’s Aya, and and Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth, moving from an early modern English drama to a post-colonial Ivorian graphic novel to a mid-20th century film about Japanese juvenile delinquents. Such a diversity of texts will likely fall under a larger theme (in this case Youth as a Cultural Construct).

The purpose of this kind of curriculum includes not only mastering specific texts and gaining knowledge about their socio-historical contexts, but developing analytical and interpretive skills which can be applied in any meaningful encounter with the products and practices of human culture. So, for example, an interpretation of Cruel Story of Youth necessarily demands some familiarity with post-war Japanese Cinema and the social conditions which shaped it as well as the formal techniques of film-making. In addition, theoretical concepts drawn from Cultural Studies, Psychoanalysis, Semiotics, etc. provide a framework for forming judgements and clarifying meaning.

Continue reading

Infelicitous Phrasing (202/303)

In other words, how do X and Y use that SOCIAL CONTENT and NARRATIVE DISCOURSE to construct YOUTH as a cultural category?

Some of the papers I’m reading simply restate the prompt as their thesis. I don’t think that’s the best opening move, frankly– it lacks originality– but as I understand it this tactic is a result of standardized testing, which encourages students to reproduce dominant forms of thought rather than to conquer new territory.

Unfortunately the phrase “use social content” is a pretty crude approximation of what happens to the social when it is appropriated for aesthetic ends. A text’s social content is not “used” but is instead the product of the creative tension between formal techniques, cultural traditions, and socio-historical context.


The best essays are written in such a way that they provoke a sense of obligation in their readers. Reading becomes a dialog, necessitating an effort to build on the ideas discussed and to carry the insights presented even further. This co-creative response is part of the pleasure of reading.