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Guest Column: Roundtable on the Future of the Humanities in a Fragmented World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

As i thought about the subject of this panel, “the future of the humanities in a fragmented world,” the implications of each word proved elusive. What does “future” mean? What aspect of the humanities? When was the world not “fragmented”? Is that a bad or a good thing? And “world,” of course, could reference anything from planet to Disney (between the two of which there may turn out to be no distinction).

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Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2005

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References

1 Kant's famous phrase, commonly translated “purposiveness without purpose” (Bernard 55). It is more correctly rendered in Paul Guyer's recent translation: “purposiveness can thus exist without an end” (105). To keep Kant's rhythm, we might say “goal-orientedness without goal.”

2 This cryptic sentence summarizes twenty-five years of classroom teaching around the problem of socialist ethics. After giving this talk, I felt empowered by a comment from Jody Melamed, a former student now teaching at Marquette University who was present in the audience, that she instantly understood what I meant because she had been in my classroom. A partial explanation is offered at the end of the essay, when I comment on the relation between redistribution and a sympathetic imagination.

3 “[T]o cut or shape with a jig-saw; also, to fit together the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. Freq. fig.” (“Jig-saw”).

4 When Adorno writes, “The fragment is the intrusion of death [der Eingriffdes Todes] in the work” (493; trans. modified), it can be read as the death of the author and the invocation of an indefinite chain of readership. It is the work of life/death, what I would call the signature of orature in literature, coming “alive” with each act of reading and “dying” for the next reader.

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