“Fifty years ago, even as recently as thirty years ago, scholars thought it a virtue to be widely read outside one’s own field. Not any more. A lot of the innovation that took place then occurred because people tried out the ideas from a field other than their own. They made mistakes, of course, but there was then a tolerance for experimentation that is unacceptable in our more professionalized era. Now we accept the idea that each field is separate and that the professional has little to gain by intellectual promiscuity.”
So writes Lindsay Waters in Enemies of Promise, a book dedicated to excoriating the “publish or perish” system. In short, Waters argues that the current series of hoops one must jump through to get tenure prevents cultivation of authentic intellectualism; we end up counting books instead of reading them. Slackening the hermetic barriers of disciplines (and groups within disciplines) is one suggestion for reinvigorating writing in the humanities. This is hardly a call for the abolishing of disciplinary distinctions (as Stanley Fish might suggest, were he a contributor to this blog); it’s a call for intellectual curiosity and adventurousness. There’s a seriousness in play. Come play with us.
“If we are to revitalize the humanities, we would stop insisting that they be kept in antiseptically sealed realms, and we would let the ideas and methods and materials in them wash over each other and us.”
– Lindsay Waters