A perverse sense of intellectual honor is driving humanities scholars to disciplinary seppuku: Some personal reflections on the book, Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age

by Bill Benzon

Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon, Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age, The University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Permanent Crisis hits close to home. In the first place, I have been trained as a humanist, my degree is in English Literature. But I have long suspected that the sense humanists have of being under attack (by agencies in the culture at large) is at least as much a feature of humanities culture as it is a perception of the world in which they live. Thus I am biased in favor of the thesis Reitter and Wellmon are arguing.

Second, most of the book is an examination of debates that took place within the German academy in the nineteenth century. Why is that important to me? Because my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, was explicitly founded on the German model in 1876, the first American university to be so founded. The words Bildung and Wissenschaft that march through this text like Sherman’s troops through Georgia also surrounded me at Hopkins.

But first I urge you to settle into a comfortable chair, pour yourself a drink, coffee, tea, scotch, a white wine spritzer, whatever. This is going to take awhile. As you know, it is customary in some quarters for a reviewer to use the occasion to expatiate on their own views while treating the book under review as but a pendant on that disquisition. I hope, Paul and Chad, that my abuse of this privilege is not so flagrant as is so often the case in, for example, The New York Review of Books but I found your argument so compelling that I had to toss in my 2 cents.

In the first section I lay out their argument as I understand it. Then, after a generous quotation from the book, I illustrate the argument with some observations by the late J. Hillis Miller, a contemporary humanist of the first rank. Miller’s observations set up the third section, where I stray from the text entirely, and discuss the ways in which schools could use the internet to revamp humanities instruction and public outreach in ways suitable to the contemporary world. I loose it entirely in the fourth section, where I explain how one ancient text, Plato’s The Crito, has been central to my own life, and then move closer to the Reiter’s and Wellmon’s text with a discussion of Goethe’s Faust, which also has personal significance. I conclude on a note of measured open-ended pessimism.

Part the First: Beyond divinity

Harvard, founded in 1636, is much older that Hopkins. It was founded to train clergyman, typical at the time. Divinity studies reigned at Harvard until well into the 19th century, by which time it had broadened its remit to include providing New England gentlemen with the sheen of civilization. But even Harvard could not resist the tides of history that came ashore in Baltimore and it was forced to adopt the German model.

But why the training of clergy and the prominence of divinity studies? The answer likely extends back beyond even the work of the great Plato, to whom we are otherwise all footnotes, when the powers of abstract thought were deployed in myths establishing our place in the cosmos, a proposition demonstrated at length by, among others, Claude Lévi-Strauss in his study of myth. More proximately, our system of higher education has its roots in the medieval church, which regarded theology at the highest form of knowledge.

That’s where Reitter and Wellmon begin their argument, which I will abstract, summarize, and trim of all detail and nuance It has two aspects: genealogical or historical and structural or formal. They argue that, not only is there little genealogical continuity between the contemporary disciplinary formation we call the humanities and the ancient world, there is little genealogical continuity that reaches back before the middle of the 19th century. The genealogies are mixed, cross-cutting, and hybrid.

On the structural level we must keep in mind that the nation-state was a relatively new form of government in the 19th century. Germany was a loose confederation of affiliated states for much of the century, only coalescing under a unified government in 1871 when the German Empire, dominated by Prussia, was proclaimed. Thought about and the organization of German universities thus became intimately tied to thought about the state and the unity of German peoples.

The sciences, broadly taken, were allowed to proliferate and specialize to serve the needs of a rising bourgeoisie in a growing capitalist economy. Divinity was displaced from the pinnacle of intellectual life while the task of living a meaningful life in an emerging nation-state became lodged in ancient texts. It is from this impossible farrago – I can’t resist, it’s my humanities (stopit! stopit!) background speaking, not me – like Athena from the brow of Zeus, or Botticelli’s Venus on the half shell, that The Humanities emerged, linking contemporary life to those texts through a largely fictional genealogy. The humanities call us to the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake at the same time that they break us to harness as citizens of the state.

Just why anyone continues to believe in some version of this hodgepodge is beyond me. Despite the fact that no university or intellectual body has ever achieved the sought-for unity, despite the fact that specialization continues apace, the university-form that took shape in the late 19th century in Germany and crossed over to America has been a smashing success in many ways. Our societies have prospered as never before; many diseases have been conquered; poverty has been reduced; learning has spread far and wide; we’ve landed on the moon and encircled the earth with communications gear allowing us to contact anyone anywhere on earth in an instant.

But we are now in a world where the nation-state is being called into doubt in various ways [1]. Private transnational corporations have greater economic value than many small nations. Some of those corporations, such as Facebook and Google, arguably have more control over discourse in the civic sphere than do the national governments of the states in which they operate. Political polarization is rife, authoritarianism is on the rise, secession movements abound [2], and the cool kids are talking of and setting out to form mini-states through sea-steading and charter cities.

As for unity and meaning, the self-regarding literary agent John Brockman has announced the coming of a Third Culture, supplementing the two, Humanities and Sciences, bequeathed us by the 19th century [3]:

The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are. […] Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. […] It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost. […] The wide appeal of the third-culture thinkers is not due solely to their writing ability; what traditionally has been called “science” has today become “public culture.”

Setting aside the triumphalist tone of Brockman’s rhetoric, much of which would be familiar to the 19th century thinkers Reitter and Wellmon investigate, the important point is that this Third Culture exists outside the university. While some of books are written by journalists, many are written university faculty who, secure in tenure, have chosen to speak to a broader public. And they have chosen to do so, I would argue, not only out of a sense of civic duty, but because they too seek a sense of intellectual unity, of consilience, to use a word popularized by the biologist E. O. Wilson, of how things fit together. In writing these popular works, these faculty are thus stepping outside their remit as intellectual specialists in a research university built on a nineteenth century model.

Why then do we keeping telling the same story over and over again when it is so poorly fit to our current situation? Perhaps it’s time we stop, reflect, and create a new story.

Part the Second: The same old story, love and glory, as time goes by

It is time I allowed Reitter and Wellmon to speak. Here is a typical passage from the book (p. 116):

Another key element in this transformation was the attempt by an array of intellectuals and scholars to consolidate and institutionalize a range of previously distinct disciplines and fields as a generally coherent endeavor under the banner of the Geisteswissenschaften, or what we translate as “the modern humanities.” The story of the Geisteswissenschaften as narrated by their advocates from Dilthey’s day to ours has consistently been one of crisis and decline in which capitalism, industrialization, technology, and the sciences eroded the humanities’ cultural legitimacy and epistemic authority. What was true for German mandarins—the historian Fritz Ringer’s term for mostly reactionary humanist scholars who decried the liberal state and their loss of cultural prestige and power around 1900 — has remained so for both politically conservative and progressive supporters of the humanities, however different their points of emphasis, epistemological tenets, and strategies of justification. For nearly a century and a half, claims about a “crisis of the humanities” have constituted a genre with remarkably consistent features: anxiety about modern agents of decay, the loss of authority and legitimacy, and invocations of “the human” in the face of forces that dehumanize and alienate humans from themselves, one another, and the world. These claims typically lead to the same, rather paradoxical conclusion: modernity destroys the humanities, but only the humanities can redeem modernity, a circular story of salvation in which overcoming the crisis of modernity is the mission of the humanities. Without a sense of crisis, the humanities would have neither purpose nor direction.

Let us test it, in general spirit though not specific detail, against some recent observations of the late J. Hillis Miller [4], the prominent literary critic who was educated at Harvard and then had his first post a Johns Hopkins in the 1950s and 60s.

In 2009 he gave an interview to the minnesota review where he talked quite a bit about his early years at Harvard and Johns Hopkins [5]. Early in the interview Miller made the following remarks:

If you asked me what I was doing, and what we were doing collectively in the humanities, I would have had an answer to that: we were teaching students the literature they need to establish the ethos necessary to be a good citizen of the United States. And what is that? What is it that you need to know? It took me thirty years before I realized how weird this is as an answer: British literature. Not American literature, but British literature — that is to say, the literature of the country that we had defeated in a war of revolutionary independence, almost two hundred years before. From that point of view the United States was acting like a colony without any self-consciousness about it. That was accepted and institutionalized at Hopkins, and even more at Harvard when I got there as a graduate student.

That is to say, the discipline of English literature, functioned according to a fundamentally 19th century prescription despite the obvious fact that the choice of canonical texts made a hash of national identity. Yet that was the discipline as it existed in mid-century.

Then the Civil Rights movement was quickly followed by the counter culture and a new feminist movement. The canon wars followed apace. The notion of a unified national culture which had been at the quixotic core of the English curriculum was in deep trouble.

Writing in the ADE Bulletin a few years earlier, Miller remarked [6]:

In the fifty years since I joined the Johns Hopkins English department, we have gradually, and now with increasing rapidity, moved out of the print age into the age of electronic media. Radio, cinema, television, DVDs, MP3 music, and the Internet now play more and more the role literature once played as the chief interpellator of citizens’ ethos and values. During’s literary subjectivity is becoming rarer and rarer among our citizens. They go to movies or watch television. That is what makes them what they are, not reading Shakespeare or Jane Austen, Dickens or Henry James, much less Donne or Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens or John Ashbery. I am sure hundreds or thousands of people have seen TV versions of novels by Austen, Dickens, or James for every person who has read the books. One reason that university administrators have stood by and allowed English departments to dismantle themselves is that they, no doubt unconsciously, feel that it does not matter so much any longer what these departments do.

From the other direction, the changes I have named in English departments—the New Criticism; the rise of theory; the development of cultural studies, global English studies, film studies, studies of popular culture, and so on—can be seen as spontaneous attempts to find again the social utility that is being lost for the study of canonical works of English literature.

Miller works his way to the end by urging us

… to make every effort to defend, in changed circumstances, the tradition that makes the humanities in the university the place especially charged with the combination of Bildung and Wissenschaft, ethical education and pure knowledge.

There you have it, Bildung and Wissenschaft, those two terms that dance through the pages of The Permanent Crisis like Sugar Plum Fairies in a Christmas pageant.

But, and this is important, Miller also acknowledges that things have changed. He acknowledges the dominance of highly technologized media. Literary culture is no longer as central to national identity and civic life as it once was.

In fact, departments, schools, journals, and professional studies devoted to media have emerged since those mid-century years at Harvard and Johns Hopkins. But traditional humanities disciplines have held them at arms length. Miller is telling us that is a mistake.

In a 2014 interview from the Australian Humanities Review he urges change [7]:

A spectacular example of this sort of thing is the State University at Albany where an administrator closed Jewish studies, French, German, and Russian studies. He just closed them arbitrarily because he had the power to do that and wanted to use the money otherwise. My advice to Albany—not to any of you, it’s your own business what you do—would have been to tell the English Department at Albany to take this as an opportunity to sit around together and concoct a new programme which would not be called the English Department but something like ‘Teaching How to Read Media’ or ‘Understanding Media’. This new department would include Film Studies and also include all those other language programs, so students could read literature and theory in the original. You’ve got to know German to read Heidegger or Adorno properly, French to read Derrida or Baudrillard. So rescue the languages as part of this programme! I don’t know whether it would work. You could at least try. You could say, ‘We’re teaching students essential skills in how to live in this world of new media. We’re teaching them how to read television ads and political ads and not to be so bamboozled so easily by the lies they tell’.

Yet the change is urges are within the standard pedagogical regime. What’s different are the objects of pedagogical attention.

Part the Third: Take to the internet

Can we go a step further and embrace the new media as a primary vehicle for teaching and for public outreach? Of course we can. And I assume that these things are going on in some ways in some places at some times. But I haven’t been on a university campus in years nor inside a classroom in decades. I have only a hazy idea of what is going on. In particular, I don’t know what innovations have arisen under the pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So I will go with what I have seen directly and extrapolate from there. I leave it to others to judge how these suggests comport with current practice.

Back in the old days at The Valve [now defunct, alas, and no longer archived], a colleague of mine there, Rohan Maitzen (Twitter: @RohanMaitzen), did two or maybe even three group readings. I remember the first, of Silas Marner. She divided the book into readable chunks, provided links to secondary readings, and scheduled discussions. I thought the discussion went very well. A variety of people participated. Some of us were card-carrying academics and some of us were not. Some of us had posting privileges at The Valve, but most did not. But most, though perhaps not all (I don’t recall), were part of the community of people who hung out at The Valve.

Futurist, writer, and educational consultant Bryan Alexander (Twitter: @BryanAlexander) organizes such readings for his clients, friends, and followers. I recently participated in one on Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 [8]. That discussion also went well. When led by experienced practitioners, these things (almost) always go well. What else would you expect? The internet doesn’t bite.

I assume that similar discussions take place under the auspices of college, community college, and university class rooms, though I hear that the software often mandated for such use leaves much to be desired. My real point, though, is that classroom authorization isn’t necessary. Such discussions are all over the place on the web. Some are organized by professional scholars, but most are not. Most are organized by and for fans. Fans discuss what interests them, which is mostly not the literary classics or the great films. So what? It’s discussion of texts that are meaningful to people – recall Hillis Miller’s recommendations quoted above.

Recaps and plot summaries are common. Every popular media title has them, often many times over. Wikipedia has them. I make frequent use of these summaries, but all too often I find them inadequate. Important information may be missing; a summary may be poorly organized; it may even be misleading or flat-out wrong. Writing good summaries is difficult. It takes practice and training. There is an educational opportunity here. Just how colleges and universities avail themselves of that opportunity, I don’t know. But then that’s not my job; it’s theirs.

Fans do informal and not so informal scholarship. I have a particular interest in Wuthering Heights, which is organized as a fairly complex double narrative. Paul Thompson has put together an excellent website on the book where you’ll find the best timeline I know of [9]. Thompson is by no means the only citizen-humanist working on the web. There are many.

Consider TV Tropes (https://tvtropes.org/), “The All Devouring Pop-Culture Wiki.” There is a wealth of information there. I don’t think it is of professional quality. It’s not built by professional scholars for professional use. Surely, though, professional scholars are interested in the kind of material one finds there. Can we not create a continuum from fully professional reference works to more casual fan sites? Is this not an educational opportunity? Is this not a vehicle for involving a wide range of people in the ongoing work of humanities scholarship?

There is no technological impediment to doing these things. There are, of course, organization and institutional issues. Colleges and universities need to grant credits toward degrees and they need to collect tuition money, at least in those benighted nations where higher education isn’t free to all citizens. Those are issues, but by no means insuperable. The real issue, the difficult and intractable one, is this foolish divide between the humanities and everything else which forces otherwise sane people to regard all digital technology as the work of neoliberal imperialist patriarchal capitalist racist fascist pig devil monsters.

Chill out.

The nineteenth century is over and gone. We’re in the twentieth century now. Relax, take a breath…and prepare to deal with climate change while you chat with students and citizens around the globe about Paradise Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sailor Moon, “Kubla Khan”, Iliad, The Expanse, Lupin, Game of Thrones, The Tale of Genjii and so on for a list of thousands if not tens of thousands.

Part the Fourth: On the personal value of two ancient texts

I entered Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1965 and took an introductory philosophy course, either that fall or in the following spring. Plato’s Crito is one of the texts we read. Socrates has been sentenced to death. Crito comes to him in prison and offers to smuggle him out. Socrates refuses the offer arguing that, yes, while he opposed the state on important matters, in the end it was the state that gave him a civic life. To evade its pronouncement on him would be to undercut the foundation of his civic life.

Four years later I drew 12 in the draft lottery. I was certain to be drafted into military service, though with my education, it was unlikely that I would be sent to Vietnam in a combat role. I found the war so abhorrent that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the military in any role whatsoever. I applied to be classified as a Conscientious Objector and therefor exempt from military duty, though I would have to perform alternative civilian service.

The minute I decided to file, that ancient text of Plato’s became vitally relevant to me, for it had become a classic in the literature of civil disobedience. I don’t know whether or not I actually cited it in any of the paperwork I had to file, probably not. But there is no doubt that it informed my actions, and those of many other men who had opposed war, and of many men and women chose to disobey the state as a form of protest – this was, after all, the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights Era in mid-century American politics.

The Crito would assume a similar role in my life when, in the mid-1980s, I failed to get tenure at the Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute. I was unable to secure another academic post in the next two or three years. There is no doubt in my mind that, beyond the general stringency of the academic job market, the fact that my published work took me too deep into enemy territory, that is, onto the science side of the humanities/science divide, certainly played a role in my failure to secure another academic post.

What was I to do? With The Crito in mind, I made another Socratic bargain. The academy had rejected me, but I nonetheless chose to remain loyal to it because its norms and values are what gave meaning to my intellectual work. Perhaps, I thought, if I continue to publish, which I did, in various says, times will change and I will be welcomed back into the fold and once again have a faculty post at an interesting university.

I didn’t have to do that. In theory, I suppose, I could have given up my intellectual life. Equally theoretical, I could have cut off my left hand and then gotten it sewn back on. Not on your life. Or I could have continued to think and write but simply flat-out rejected the academic world as a fraud and a sham. Who knows, had I done that I might have gone on to fame and fortune with some fancy sounding intellectual bullshit, like L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics. Then again, after my left hand had been reattached I could have cut off my right.

But times did change, in various ways. On the one hand, by the mid-1990s other humanists began to investigate ideas akin to the ones that had made me an outcast, a ronin scholar. At the same time, the web developed and changed the intellectual landscape entirely, making it easy to promulgate my ideas, to receive the ideas of others, and to contact scholars and investigators around the world, all outside institutions controlled by the academy. I came to revise the terms of my Socratic bargain. The story is too complex to include here, but I have told it at my own blog, New Savanna.[10]

I have been able to establish relationships with a wide variety of scholars. Some relationships have been casual, but a few have been quite substantial, while others fall somewhere in between. My sense of decorum dictates against including the full list in this review – I include the list in my blog post – but vanity and sense of accomplishment urges me to list the most prominent: William H. McNeill (historian), Tim Morton (literary critic, philosopher), Steven Pinker (linguist), Daniel Everett (linguist), Franco Moretti (computational criticism), Mary Douglas, (anthropologist), and Walter Freeman (neuroscientist).

As originally formulated, my Socratic bargain was between me and a particular set of institutions. The reformulated bargain has eliminated loyalty to those institutions in favor of loyalty to free and unfettered inquiry among a diffuse international community of scholars, most of whom have chosen to remain within the academy. I bought my intellectual freedom at the price of a life of genteel poverty, a price few could afford, especially if they wanted to raise a family. I count myself blessed for living in a time and at a place where, through hard work and perseverance, that reward has been available even at that price.

* * * * *

Goethe’s Faust is my other text. I read it in my freshman year at Hopkins, the same year I read The Crito. It was a single credit course given by Professor Harold Jantz, who taught to a packed house. The course was designed to open Faust to a wide audience; we read it in an English translation by George Madison Priest.

While Goethe and Faust are mentioned in Permanent Crisis, Goethe did not participate in the discussions reported therein. He’d died in 1832 but looms over the nineteenth century as a major intellectual and cultural presence.

Goethe was himself as close to being a universal man as the modern world has seen. He was a poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, theatre director and critic. He was also a man of practical affairs, serving the Duke of Weimar during the 1780s.

Goethe became a member of the Duke’s privy council, sat on the war and highway commissions, oversaw the reopening of silver mines in nearby Ilmenau, and implemented a series of administrative reforms at the University of Jena. He also contributed to the planning of Weimar’s botanical park and the rebuilding of its Ducal Palace. [11]

Faust is widely considered to be his most important work. It is based on a longstanding set of stories and legends about a scholar who makes a deal with the devil. Goethe elaborated into what Edward Mendelson called an encyclopedic narrative.[12] He lists seven: Dante’s Commedia, Rabelais’ five books of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Goethe’s Faust, Melville’s Moby-Dick, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. “Encyclopedic narratives”, Mendelson tells us, “occupy a special historical position in their cultures, a fulcrum, often, between periods that later readers consider national pre-history and national history.” They are capacious and baggy, incorporating a wide range of literary forms and they “all attempt to render the full range of knowledge and beliefs of a national culture, while identifying the ideological perspectives from which that culture shapes and interprets its knowledge.”

That’s Faust. While it certainly doesn’t include the whole of knowledge available to a educated German, it implies the whole by what it does include. A sophisticated person could easily imagine the unity of human knowledge through having read Faust. Having imagined it, why not propose such unity as the ideal to which a university should aspire?

But that’s not why I’m including Faust in this set of personal reflections. I’m including it because of the arc of Faust’s life. He started as a seeker of knowledge, as have I, and ended up in the real estate business, reclaiming land from the sea. While I’ve not given up the search for knowledge, nor have I gone into the real estate business, I have, in the last decade and a half or so, spent a fair amount of time improving the physical world in which I live with my fellow citizens.

I’ve worked in a community garden and gone on neighborhood cleanups. With my young friend Gregory Edgell, who is in the real estate business, I helped Jersey City establish a mural program and, working with local skateboarders, community leaders, and politicians, we saw the city build a skate park, one of the finest poured-concrete parks in New Jersey. A couple of years ago we formed a non-profit corporation, The Bergen Arches Preservation Coalition [13], working to have a mile-long abandoned railway corridor turned into a linear rails-to-trails park, something like New York City’s high line, but cooler, since the teeming vegetation gives it the feel of a temple complex in a long-lost civilization.

How is it that my life has, if only loosely, conformed to a pattern Goethe laid out in Faust? Do we all live lives conforming to a pattern in some ancient or not-so-ancient text?

Finally, perhaps meaning resides, not in what you know, but in what you do. Faust’s last words (11559-11586 [14]):

A marsh extends along the mountain-chain
That poisons what so far I’ve been achieving;
Were I that noisome pool to drain,
‘Twould be the highest, last achieving.
Thus space to many millions I will give
Where, though not safe, yet free and active they may live.
Green fertile fields where straightway from their birth
Both men and beast live happy on the newest earth,
Settled forthwith along the mighty hill
Raised by a daring, busy people’s will. […]
Of freedom and of life he only is deserving
Who every day must conquer them anew.
Thus here, by danger girt, the active day
Of childhood, manhood, age will pass away.
Aye! such a throng I fain would see,
Stand on free soil among a people free.
Then might I say, that moment seeing:
“Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!”
The traces of my earthly being
Can perish not in aeons – they are there!
That lofty moment I now feel in this:
I now can enjoy the highest moment’s bliss.

Faust lays back and dies.

Part the Fifth: What about the future of the humanities?

I find it difficult to be optimistic. That old story, the one whose origins and course Reiter and Wellmon chart, is deeply entrenched in current institutional mythology. Good work takes place outside the boundaries of that story, but I don’t think anything can be done within its boundaries except to make the death as painless as possible.

I note that much of the most interesting work in the humanities in the last twenty years has been done under the ungainly banner of the so-called “digital humanities” [15]. All of that work falls under the interdiction Geoffrey Hartman pronounced on “modern ‘rithmatics’—semiotics, linguistics, and technical structuralism” in The Fate of Reading in 1975 (p. 272). That work has thus been widely scored and rebuked as “neoliberal” and worse by scholars who haven’t taken the time to read it carefully and who have no interest in understanding it. If it involves computers and numbers it can’t be good. Much of this work takes place outside academic departments, in libraries, for example, and some of the best scholars have found a home in schools of library and information science.

During the Middle Ages the church was the institutional center of intellectual life in the West. Then things changed. With the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution the locus of intellectual life shifted to the universities. The church didn’t disappear, not at all, nor did it cease to foster its own intellectual life. But that life was now peripheral with the culture.

Now we are undergoing a similar civilizational transformation. The university system is in trouble. Some, many institutions will survive in some form. About the pursuit of truth I am not sure. Much of the best work in computing is taking place in private industry; that has been the case since the 1960s and 70s. That situation is deeply problematic. Putting that aside, however, one would not and should not expect computer-centered research to foster sustained attention to the texts, objects, and issues that have animated the thinking of humanities scholars. Vigorous new institutions have not yet emerged. The future is uncertain.


[1] The nation-state is a frequent topic at New Savanna. Here’s the link, https://new-savanna.blogspot.com/search/label/nation-state.

[2] William Benson, ed., Thomas Naylor’s Paths to Peace: Small is Necessary, Wheatmark, 2019.

[3] John Brockman, The Emerging Third Culture, Edge, 1.1.96, https://www.edge.org/conversation/the-emerging.

[4] I have a number of posts at New Savanna in which I deal with the views and thinking of Hillis Miller. They are gathered under the label “Hillis Miller” at this link, https://new-savanna.blogspot.com/search/label/Hillis%20Miller.

[5] Jeffrey J. Williams, Bellwether: An Interview with J. Hillis Miller, the minnesota review 2009 Volume 2009, Number 71-72: 25-46. doi: 10.1215/00265667-2009-71-72-25.

[6] J. Hillis Miller, My Fifty Years in the Profession, ADE Bulletin, No. 133, Winter 2003, p. 65.

[7] ‘You see you ask an innocent question and you’ve got a long answer’, J. Hillis Miller in discussion with Éamonn Dunne, Michael O’Rourke, Martin McQuillan, Dragan Kujundžić, Graham Allen and Nicholas Royle, Australian Humanities Review, Issue 56, May 2014, http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2014/05/01/you-see-you-ask-an-innocent-question-and-youve-got-a-long-answer/.

[8] Bryan Alexander, Our online book club’s next reading is… New York 2140, July 14, 2018, https://bryanalexander.org/book-club/our-online-book-clubs-next-reading-is-new-york-2140/.

[9] Paul Thompson, The Reader’s Guide to Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”, https://wuthering-heights.co.uk/index.php. Here’s the timeline, https://wuthering-heights.co.uk/timeline.

[10] The changing terms of my Socratic bargain with the American Academy [and the larger search for truth], New Savanna, June 19, 2021, https://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2021/06/the-changing-terms-of-my-socratic.html.

[11] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Wolfgang_von_Goethe.

[12] Edward Mendelson, Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon, MLN 91 (1976), 1267-1275.

[13] Our website, https://www.bergenarches.com/.

[14] John Wolfgang von Goethe. Faust, Parts One & Two, George Madison Priest, trans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963.

[15] I have 20 working papers about digital humanities at Academia.edu which you can access here, https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon?from_navbar=true.

This one is relatively short and general: Digital Criticism Comes of Age, Working Paper, December 2015, 16 pp., https://www.academia.edu/19414113/Digital_Criticism_Comes_of_Age.

This takes a look at the work Franco Moretti and his colleagues did at the Stanford Literary Lab: From Canon/Archive to a REAL REVOLUTION in literary studies, Working Paper, December 21, 2017, 26 pp., https://www.academia.edu/35486902/From_Canon_Archive_to_a_REAL_REVOLUTION_in_literary_studies.

You might also want to look at a formal academic paper from the 1970s, William Benzon and David Hays, “Computational Linguistics and the Humanist”, Computers and the Humanities, Vol. 10. 1976, pp. 265-274, https://www.academia.edu/1334653/Computational_Linguistics_and_the_Humanist.