“Everybody talks about the crisis in the humanities but nobody takes responsibility for it” (Bernstein 78)
In making this claim, American poet Charles Bernstein issues a challenge to humanists to take responsibility for our future by engaging seriously with the practice of poetics. How might humanists take up this challenge to imagine ethical forms of teaching and research appropriate to the demands of our globalizing world? Bernstein proposes poetics “as the foundation for a realm of value that is neither scientistic nor moralistic.” Instead, “Poetics is the ethical engagement with the shifting conditions of everyday life” (78). Taking Bernstein’s challenge as its starting point, this paper considers the potential of Gayatri Spivak’s notions of planetarity and transnational literacies for reimagining humanities futures. I begin in the belief that many of the responses to the crisis of the humanities today are inadequate because they fail to engage with decolonial imaginaries. The conservative return to the canon; the liberal defense of how the humanities prepare citizens for democratic participation; the computational turn in humanities research; the advocacy of digital learning through doing; and the neoliberal scorn for anything without immediate utilitarian value—each recognizes a partial truth, yet there is a sense in which each of these alternatives remains within the terrain set by neoliberal challenges to humanities-based learning. Bernstein’s poetics offers an alternative with the flexibility to negotiate the combined fluidities and frictions of life in global times and the continuing need to decolonize the imagination, reinventing social imaginaries on more egalitarian and inclusive principles. What, then, might it mean to take responsibility for the humanities today? I will discuss my preliminary answers to this question by drawing on my experience as a humanist within three collaborative, interdisciplinary research teams: “Globalization and Autonomy”; “Building Global Democracy”; and “Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange: Building Transnational Literacies.” These experiments in agenda-formation within transnational, interdisciplinary, and trans-sectoral learning communities are transforming my understanding of the value of what the humanities offer and how we need to change to realize the emancipatory potential of the humanities at their best.
Bernstein, Charles. “The Practice of Poetics.” In Attack of the Difficult Poems. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 73-80.