The founding of a Passionate Humanities counteracts a growing anti-intellectualism and the current dehumanization of the university. The humanities are being engulfed by the industrial logic of efficiency that seems to be insatiable in today’s universities. Outreach thinking has been replaced with self-serving calculus. Instead of exploring and explaining, today’s humanities are trapped in a small, coldhearted world, where only measurable output is validated. Where no heart is involved, that which is human is at stake.
In June 2019 a group of literary scholars, philosophers, and art historians met in Munich to discuss the current state of the humanities within the German and the North American university system, as well as the role of passion and emotion in the academy. Our gathering in Munich represents an important first step in a long journey that we plan to continue. We have started developing projects that involve the specific skills and approaches of literary scholars, philosophers, art historians, etc., with the goal of improving lives. “The Academy of Passions”, an idea brought forth by Stefan Bronner, introduces a program, which combines academic and artistic work. We are working on a holistic curriculum that reflects the fullness of the human experience, comparable to the concept of the German “Volkshochschulen”.
The videos enclosed are part of an archive we want to build.
The founders of a Passionate Humanities will analyze the video archive and determine common critical comments on the current state of the humanities, and outline solutions. For spring 2020 we will organize another conference, this time in the United States. This conference will be dedicated to the solutions. Our goal is to formulate a manifesto for a better future. In the manifesto we will indicate specific suggestions of how to build a better future within the humanities. A conference call for Passionate Humanities II will be released here soon.
Stefan Bronner, University of Connecticut: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marcel Schmid, University of Virginia: email@example.com
Dominic Richard (University of Edinburgh) opened our conference in Munich with a talk on the problem of survey classes and canonisation. Students are being discouraged to look beyond the big names these classes focus on.
Anne von Petersdorff (Michigan State University) suggests that we should rethink the concept of the traditional dissertation. Her hybrid dissertation combines collaborative, creative filmmaking and feminist scholarship grounded in German studies. It is made up of two parts: a written treatment addressing fundamental issues in feminist filmmaking–body, voice, and collaboration– which in turn complements her travel documentary Wanderlust, cuerposentránsito (2017), a bi-autobiographical account of a journey from Egypt to Germany. Wanderlust has played at a number of international filmfestivals, for more information on the film please see: Wanderlustlapelicula.com.
Misia Doms (Pädagogische Hochschule Niederösterreich) reintroduced old terms like “wisdom” and “soul” when speaking about the academic endeavours in the humanities. Students must be able t0 take time for soul-searching during their studies. In order to understand the object of interest, be it languages, cultures or humans, they must develop a passionate relationship to it. (Language: German)
Stefan Bronner (University of Connecticut) states the necessity for literary studies to open up to new communication modes and seek a broader audience. Bronner criticises the lack of passion and emotion in today’s academic world and its exclusion of Eros and the body. According to Friedrich Kittler, the academic’s asceticism and his search for knowledge and truth are in reality nothing but sexual impotence. Facing the growing influence of international nationalism and anti-intellectualism, he argues that academics have to do more than just analyze, archive and teach students “skills” for their future in the corporate world. On the contrary, teachers should comment, construct, create, and seek public attention. (Language: German)
Nausikaä El-Mecky ( Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona) asks: what if we accepted that we as human beings sometimes behave irrationally, and that when we learn, a part of us also learns irrationally? Our anger, ignorance and bias will not only help students and young people connect with art, but they will also allow for new intercultural approaches. This is not to say that educators should rant and shout at their terrified students; rather that they reconsider the educational possibilities and positive opportunities offered by intellectual and / or emotional states that have strong negative connotations.
Philipp Theisohn (Universität Zürich) spoke to us on Skype about strategies to communicate literature to a broader audience. In his classroom, he introduces judgement as a category to interest students in literary texts. According to Philipp, educators have to leave the classroom in order to convey literature’s universal relevance.
Discussing Plato’s dialogue “Timaeus”, Lauren Smith and Marcel Schmid (Brown University & University of Virginia) argue that philosophy is only possible if we resist the natural sleep, which overcomes us as humans. Neither the achievements of humanity, nor human fullness occur naturally. They require this resistance to nature that should be what education is.
Alexander Kappe (FU Berlin) analyses the humanities’ standing within the German university, points out political discrimination against our field, and the humanities’ very own shortcomings. Being involved in a broader cultural discourse can be a disadvantage for academics in Germany. Referring to Nietzsche, Kappe reveals a hidden motif behind the German ideal of the ascetic academic: one who is not supposed to communicate with the common people in order to allegedly serve the truth. This asceticism, however, appears to be the drive to outshine competitors. (Language: German)
Hans-Joachim Schott (Universität Bamberg) refers back to Lyotard’s claim of the end of the grand narratives by arguing that Postmodern thinkers, who sought to target grand narratives due to their dangerous outcomes, themselves produced readings of world history à la Hegel. Tracing the development of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy, Schott proves that the French philosopher has brought forth his own messianic narrative in the Übermensch-figure of the “Schizo”. (Language: German)
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