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February 09, 1969 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-02-09

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Page Fiv


A guided tour through the humanities mus


,t ,

t t


Would y o u tell me, please,
which way I ought to go from
"That depe ds a good deal on
where you want to get to," said
the Cat. 5
"I don't much care where --"
said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which
way you go," said the Cat.
"- so long as I get some-
where," Alice added as an ex-
"Oh, you're sure to do that,"
said the Cat, "if you only walk
long enough.
-Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland
"Well here goes nothing."
-Prioner entering
death chamber at
San Quentin.
If anyone is- looking for an
epigraph for this age, I offer the
two above. Alice's confusion is
childlike, the confusion of pure
hope, a subject looking for an
object. The prisoner's despair
is pure death, nothing enter-
ing nothingness. They are dif-
ferent responses to the same
situation; Alice and the pris-
oner both find themselves en-
veloped by some mystifying pro-
cess which seems to have noth-
ing to do with their own wills.-
In such a situation, if you re-
gard the process as relatively
benign you ask directions if
you regard it as less hopeful,
you become resigned to a more
apocalyptic view. To many peo-
ple, one or the other of these
responses seems appropriate to
this period in history - a per-
iod, they feel, in which a man
can no longer make choices for
himself. The question is two-
pronged: where are we going,
and could we do anything about
it if we knew? Does our ration-
alized, technological society
take matters into its machine-
like hands so efficiently that
any important decisions affect-
ing our lives are inevitably made
If there is an answer to that
question, it involves education
and art. Although it would be
presumptuous to say that artists
can solve the problems of the
world, that presumption is less
to be feared than the possibility
that artists will turn their backs
on the world. In education that
kind of behavior would perpet-
uate some unfortunate distinc-
tions between art and thought
and practical affairs. Such dis-
tinctions helped get us in trou-
ble in the first place, and they
are more than ever inappropri-
ate. Our problem is not simply
to encourage artists to be en-
gaged but to give all men the
a power over their lives and sur-
roundings that an artist has
over his materials. That power
is within our grasp for the first
time in history, but to assume
it wisely we will need to strike
new alliances between the arts
and the humanistic fields of sch-
r olarship - philosophy, history
and the academic study of lit-
erature and the arts. Living
must become quite literally a
m re artistic enterprise, and
tht will requiren developing a
new science of man which draws
on and develops its own peculiar
art forms.
In colleges and universities
today, the humanities generally
include those disciplines which
study human creations and ac-
tions but which forgo the tech-
niques of the "hard" sciences.
Although it is difficult to say
very precisely what t h e dis-
ciplines in this grab-bag have
in common, in college curricula
they are usually approached as
the meals to the study of a tra-
dition. Almost invariably, that

tradition is congruent with the
development of Western civili-
zation. It is a tradition which
is assumed to be continuous
down to modern times, and
there is assumed agreement
about which objects and events'
are most valuable and exem-
plary in that tradition. T h e
many different objectives which
have been advanced for educa-
tion in the humanities generally
fall under one of two rubrics:
the development in students of
some particularly humane way
of looking at the world or the
transmission to students of key
elements of the culture which
they have inherited. In fact,
4 however, the first objective has
little effect in the shaping of
humanities curricula, because
the fact is that few of us have
had very clear ideas about how
to develop in others a humane
way of looking at things. On
the other hand, most of us hold
* pretty firm ideas about which
elements of our cultural heri-
tage merit preservation, and so
by design or default the typical
curriculum in the humanities is
aimed at presenting those ob-

jects with which "any educated
m a n" should be familiar no
matter what the official -ration-
ale of the course may be. The
typical humanities course or
curriculum is a guided t o u r
through a museum.
This approach makes the role
of the ats problematic. The so-
called creative arts are normally
kept at arm's length from the
humanities curriculum. Often
they are not officially included
among those disciplines listed
as "humanities" in the cata-
logs, and when they are includ-
ed, it is usually in those cours-
es which teach students to
study the arts but not to prac-
tice them. Both the scholar and
the artist suffer from the dis-
tinction, but more important,
students suffer who accept the
implication that the distinction
between art and serious thought
is absolute. The distinction is
not absolute, and if we take ser-
iously the problem of preparing
a student for the future, then'
we must take seriously the re-
sponsibility to help him become
artful as,well as knowledgeable.
At one time, the museum ap-
proach might have been cul-
turally satisfactory,' although it
has always been questionable
pedagogy, but the traditional
cultural foundation upon, which
it once rested is now being un-
dermined from several direc-
tions. Its primary assumption is
that objects and values will en-
dure and therefore can be pre-
served, but even that assump-
tion is being questioned with
increasing cogency. Imperman-
ence is a hallmark of these
times, a n d although sensitive
men in all times have been op-
pressed or exhilarated by the
feeling that theirs was an age
of unprecedented change, there
is a new quality to the mutabil-
ity of our age. It is not only
swifter and more pervasive, but
for the first time, the whole so-
ciety is explicitly organized to
promote it. Each of us is re-
sponsible for it. Each of us is
working to. produce next year's
model, the next wonder drug, the
newest industrial complex which
will require the n Xt skyscraper
which will produce the next al-
teration in the cityscape, the
.next cumulative addition to
scholarship which will change
our view of the past, the next
fashionable artistic style.
In the context of organized
impermanence, two questions
arise concerning the museum
concept. The firstls fairly ob-
vious, although the answer is
obscure: in a world committed
to change, what kind of sense
does it make to talk about en-
during values? The works and
events which are normally
studied in the humanities are
considered important both be-
cause they are deemed to repre-
sent the utmost men can per-
form and beecause of their part
in a valued tradition. They en-
dure because of their merit, and
conversely, t h e i r durability
proves their merit. Pindar was
probably not the first poet to
claim that his songs made him
immortal, and Shakespeare was
not the last. Yet although few
people would predict the immi-
nent eclipse of Shakespeare,
nevertheless the value of en-
durance itself no longer seems
as great as it once did. Nor is
our sense of tradition as sure as
it once was, and consequently
the justification of humanistic
study as the preserver of per-
tinent traditions is increasingly
Some contemporary artists,
experimenting with short-lived
works and techniques of mass-

production, have explicitly ab-
jured the permanence of the
unique work as a value. In doing
so they have also raised the
second question for the mus-
eum concept: in a world com-
mitted to change, it will be in-
creasingly easy to objectify our
most transient moods, and our
perception of the world itself
will alter so that it will become
increasingly difficult to see any-
thing but a reflection of our-
selves. The situation has been
described most clearly by a
psychologist, Kenneth Craik:
"The degree to which the
shape of the physical envir-
onment will be made respon-
sive to human intentions, and
the speed of that responsive-
ness, will be vastly increased
by developments in the tech-
nological means of altering
the physical environment. One
psychological result will be a
diminishing of the distinction
between matter and fantasy.
Psychologically, an object ap-
pears to be a material entity -,
if it is somewhat immutable
and only slowly and effort-



fully responsive to human in-
tentions, while an object seems
fanciful if it is effervescent
and quickly, effortlessly re-
sponsive to human intentions.
Thus, one prediction I will
hazard is that the physical
environment will become less
material and more whimsical,
if not more spiritual."
It would be interesting to see
an elaboration of that idea by
someone with psychiatric train-
ing, but even to the untrained
observer it is instructive to look
at our present environment as
a set of objectified fantasies.
Whatever their significance may
be, the content of those fan-
tasies is rather discouraging.
Our environment seems to have
been shaped by two controlling
fantasies: one involving unlimit-
ed self-aggrandizement through
spatial extension and the other
involving death by strangula-
tion or smothering. Both fan-
tasies can evoke the same con-
tenty millions of miles of high-
ways in the process of apparent-
ly infinite expansion; aircraft
whose speed and capacity will
apparently be increased indef-
initely; nuclear delivery sys-
tems and lines of defense being
placed and replaced, duplicated
and reduplicated; cities grow-
ing and growing and growing;
and the whole process consum-
ing oxygen, fuel and other re-
sources a n d leaving in their
place an ingenious array of pol-
lutants. Our fantasies are com-
pulsive: overpopulation, over-
crowding,,overkill. If then tech-
nology offers the means f o r
making the world even more
fantasy-like, we c'ould be par-
doned for declining the privi-
lege. Unfortunately, -however,
that seems to be one choice
realistically is not open to us,
and we might more profitably
spend our time improving the
The missing factor in t h e
nightmare being played around
us is art. It is art which takes
the content of fantasy and
shapes it, controls it, limits it,
and creates from it something
humane. The problem facing us
is not simply to learn to be more
creative; one could argue that
we are too religiously creative
now. Even as we are creating a
superabundance of people and
things, we find it easier to con-
tinue to create anew than to
work to adapt that which exists.
It requires a great deal of cre-
ativity to solve the problems in-
volved in placing an airport in
the middle of the Everglades,
to obliterate a natural environ-
ment and replace it with an un-
stable, artificial one, but there
are good reasons for regarding
that creativity as misplaced.
Even the discipline of a r t,
however, would not be sufficient
to make a totally responsive en-
vironment bearable. It is here
that the arts and the humanities
will most 'certainly need to de-
velop a united front. We need
to develop a mode of rigorous
scholarship in human affairs
which is imbued with artistic
judgment of proportion, which
is concerned with questions of
value, and which h a s as its
arena not the museum but the
marketplace or legislative cham-
ber. The kind of art that can
control the way we project our-
selves in the world will per-
haps be most like the 'art of a
happening, in which an event
and an environment mutually
inform each other, where each
individual is a creative partici-
pant within a surrounding form.
We a r e already beginning to
take seriously the need for beau-
ty in our environment, and'we

must also begin to recognize
the need for beauty in our pro-
cesses and events. The human-
istic disciplines are concerned
with evaluating different kinds
of human expression, and they
should be able to deal with this
kind as well. When is a political
campaign or a meeting or the
constructing of a building beau-
tiful? How can they be structur-
ed so as to be beautiful? Such
art would not be value-free. It
would need to draw on the skills
of' the humanistic disciplines to
approach fundamental ques-
tions of human values and to
Judge the expression of those
values. It was, after all, Plato
who first asked about the beau-
ty of actions.1

These two effects of imperm-
anence - the apparent irrele-
vance of the past and the event-
ful environment - both point
to the need for 'a new-kind of
humanistic education which has
as its objective the discipline
and artful expression of indi-
vidual concerns. We need to ed-
ucate artisans: men who are
skillful in the means'of techno-
logy and whose sense of utility
is tempered by the sensibility
of art. They would have the
power over themselves to re-
shape fantasy into objects and
environments which would be
most useful to most men. Some
of them would be at home in
corporate executive offices, some
on zoning commissions, some in
federal and state regulatory

would be the creator of envir-
onments and events, and his en-
tire lifetime would be a single
tradition, perhaps the longest
continuous tradition in which
he would participate.
Man is becoming the most
durable element in his material
environment, and o n e man's
memory is becoming the most
durable element in his intel-
lectual environment; conse-
quently, in any discussion of
humanistic education, it is clear
that we need to rethink the role
of tradition. It is probably not
appropriate to expect a univer-
sity to reconstruct traditions.
That has never been a univer-'
sity's task,'and for good rea-
sons. A tradition is different
from history in that a tradition

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pare students for the revitaliza-
tion of traditions in their own
Few colleges have achieved
such a role today. Usually, mak-
ing the past accessible involves
telling a student what to think
about the past. Rarely is he en-
couraged to be challenged by
the past, and if he does per-
cieve such a challenge on his
own, he soon learns not to con-
fess it. Yet this kind of chal-
lenge is what traditions are all
about. We must find ways for
students to be challenged by the
past and to challenge it, and
it is here that the arts can be
most useful. The museum con-
cept of the humanities has nev-'
er actually worked, because men
have always sought to recon-
struct their own past, and the
museum concept is particularly
inappropriate now, when ,t h e
past often does not s e e iii so
much a burden as simply an ir-
relevancy,. If the past can be-
come relevant to a man who
lives through ,the n e x t fifty
years, it will happen because he
has been able to fashion his own
statenent of meaning and to
test it against others, not be-
cause he feels heir to one past or
another. He will not be inter-
ested in received opinions. For
him the arts can provide the
means for meaningful personal
statements; and because po-
ducts of the arts are, in a ery
real sense, timeless, the arts can
provide paradigmatic experienc-
es of the present's challenge to
the past.
The present distinction be-
tween the studio course and the
academic course or between lit-
erary criticism and creative'
writing allows a student to go
ahead a n d "express himself"
without having to answer to the
past in any way. I have heard
several teachers complain that
students have a romantic no-
tion of self- expression which
ignores the necessity for hard
work and discipline. Yet it is
ironic that those same profes-
sors in their own courses rarely
suggest ways for students to use
their discipline for responsible
self-expression. As Henry David
Aiken has put it, a student is
permitted-to write about Scho-
penhauer but not to write like
him. The sad outcome is that
by enforcing the distinction be-
tween thinking and doing, pro-
fessors of the humanities have
permitted doing without think-
ing and thinking without doing.
A course is merely academic if
it fails to -encourage students to
make meaningful choices, choic-
es that have real consequences
for the student himself. Be-
cause such choices are difficult
and because > some people pre-
fer to let others make choices
for them, teachers in the arts
must consciously strive to see
that they are made. If a student
in a course in music composition
is asked to compose like Mo-
zart, he may complete the exer-
cise satisfactorily without mak-
ing any judgments about his
own commitments. He may
learn about Mozart, and that is
good; he may broaden his own
repertoire of compositional
styles, and that is better; but
unless he is moved to take Mo-
zart personally, as a friend or a
foe, he will not be able to make
his own way in the musical en-
vironment which Mozart helped
create. He m a y remember
enough Mozart to pass an exam,
but unless it is the kind of per-
sonal memory which orders the
present and suggests the future,
his memory will be useless. He
might as well have amnesia. Our
society is peopled by artistic

amnesiacs. Men come out of hu-
manities courses in some of the
"best" colleges in the country
and come to work in Manhat-
tan in some of the ugliest build-
ings in the country, and yet they
do not like ugliness; .presumably
they simply do not notice it, or
choose to ignore it. They are not
reliable judges of the signifi-
cance of their environment, be-
cause they have not been train-
ed to perceive the kind of mean-
ings an environment implies.'
If we assume that the per-
ception of form is a human
need, then the arts must play
a crucial role in the education
of every man, but it will not be
the role which is usually and
most easily devised for -the arts.
That"role was devised to intro-
duce children and young men
and women into a world where
art is the ornament of genteel
lives, or a good hedge against
the market, or anything else
except an essential, part of one's
life. Our world is dominated by
process rather than form and
histdry and will be so until we
know what form looks like when
we see it.
Education must provide stu-
dents with some capacity for
sensual perception and expres-
sion, with an understanding of
the necessary interplay of per-
ception and expression. The
judgment of human creations
obviously requires the ability to
perceive different options. The
student needs to know what the
past can provide in the way of
models of perception, and he
will need to experiment with
ways to perceive and ways to
integrate his own perceptions.
To the extent. that he is aware
of the continuity of his mode
of seeing (or hearing, or touch-
ing, or reading) with that of
other men, he will have a sense
of rootedness in a tradition
which he can accept as his own.
But the mode of seeing must

still be genuinely his. He will be
the creator of his perception,
and that means he must know
what it means to create an art-
ful object or event.
The importance of these post-
ulates extends beyond educa-
ticpal policy. If a fatalist is a
person who has no faith in his
own ability to direct his course
and consequently submits to a
course conceived elsewhere, then,
we have reared a nation of fatal-
ists. It is ironic that this has
happened in a nation usually
thought of as "optimistic" and
"future-oriented"-with its no-
tion of manifest destiny and its
adulation of productivity and
progress-but that orientation
is at the root of the matter.
Such goalsras those cannot be
phrased in terms of the indi-
vidual human being, and men
instinctively perceive their ir-
relevance to actually living out
each day. Their promise of a
future for an individual person-
ality is illusory.
Time passes without shaping
anything. Americans are pro-
ducers of produce, and Amer-
-ican consumers perishable. Tne
myth of progress and produc-
tion preclude the possibility of
arrival. We have no eschatology,
just escalation. Nor can we un-
til we have developed an art
which allows each of us to re-
assert form upon time. We move
from school to job to job, 'om
farm to city to suburb, from
house to house, and are not free.
A college could help its students
see the paradoxial relation be-
tween ,tradition and freedom if
it were prepared to introduce
a radically new kind of cur--
riculum, administration, and
faculty. Not to do -so will make
liberal education-the education
of free men-a thing of the

I. U

"Men come out of humanities courses in some
of the 'best' colleges in the country and come
to work in Manhattan in some of the ugliest
buildings in the country, and yet they do not
like ugliness; presumably they simply do not
notice it, or choose to ignore it. They are not
reliable judges of the significance of their en-
vironment, because they have not been trained
to perceive the kind of mean ings an environ-
ment implies."
f~>S~S:Y."~: .Y"'f:V::S:::":."i.S"::: ."f::Y: .W':t '.'f:t' :"!t:'.":'.. !lf.1.1:........... .4;::..:'".{':!....5.
+ :"1.:::'::::.5':::::'"." ^

agencies. And because the ef-
feet of technology is to disperse
at least some kinds of power,
the artisan's judgment would
be necessary in voters and con-
sumers. Since technology has
made our total environment the
medium of our art, we had bet-
ter become accomplished in the
The beginning, and end of the
craft is self-knowledge. The ar-
tisan would be living in an age
in which a single man's life-
time will confront h i m with
problems which he could not
possibly have forseen and for
which there are no convention-
al solutions. He would still study
works of the past, but their his-
tory would not be his. He would-
participate in traditions not as
a discoverer but as an artist,
whose one final truth is his own.
Through his o w n choices he

is kept alive by individuals who
are responding to the felt de-
mand of the past at the same
time that they are responding
to immediate and personal de-
mands of their own. Conse-
quently there is always a dialec-
tical tension between the past
and the present instances of a
If there is no such tension, we
are dealing either with a cliche
or with an invention. Because
a tradition has no substance
outside t h e recurrent expres-
sions of men who participate in
it, it requires continual recre-_
ation as well as study. The role
of the school, then, is to make
the past accessible to the stu-
dent at the same time that it
allows him to explore his own
capacity for thought and action.
In the arts as in the humanities,
the role of the schod is to pre-

The istory of the (hurch s
Attitude Toward Abortion
8:00 P.M.--February 10, 1969
331 Thompson
Professor Noonan is perhaps best known for the role he
playedafter Vatican I1 as a consultant to the Papal Comrnmis-
sion on Problems of the Family, Population, and Natality and
for the book that arose as a result of that work, Contracep-
tion: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians
and Cannonists. Dr. Noonan holds a B.A. from Harvard, a
.PhD. from the Catholic University of America, and an LLB.
from Harvard Law School. Presently he is 6 Professor of Law
at the University of California Law School. In addition to
teaching, Prof. Noonan edits the Natural Law Forum and
serves as the director of the Natural Law Institute at the
University of Notre Dame.

- '

r L

PHILIP KAPLEAUl, Resident Teacher
Zen" Meditation Center of Rochester
February 12 through Febiuary 1y4



Wednesday, 7:30 P.M.
Multipurpose Room
Undergrad Library
Thursday, 9:00 A.M.
Residential College
Greene Lounge
Thursday, 3:00 P.M.
Residential College

Fr-- _ -


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