24 March 2008

humanities at MIT -- like, SO relaxing after my psets!

Overhead, in the "History of the Humanities" hallway outside the Hayden Library at MIT:
MIT undergrad giving tours to bright-eyed&bushy-taled prospies and their purse-clutching parents:

"Yah, so, we all come to MIT to do math and science and engineering, but you DO have to take humanities classes while you're here. I know [she sighs, in response to non-existent groans], it sucks; but you know, I've actually started to LIKE them. After my physics classes and doing all those p-sets, talking about books is just RELAXING, y'know?"
I'm not one for academic pissing contests -- and I understand it might be worth problematizing this word "relaxing" -- but -- seriously?! As a humanities person at MIT, I've resigned myself to being that whacked-out dreadhead roaming building 14. I see the looks from the all the albino-looking scientists that lurk around every corner -- they wonder who let the homeless hippie in. (Sometimes, when I walk past, I bare my teeth; they clutch their briefcases a little closer.)

I am not prepared, however, to bow down to some kind of disciplinary hierarchy that places "hard science" at the top and tosses literature into the pile of that which we cannot speak about, and thus must pass over in silence. I thought Science is marching us toward Progress, toward Technological Enlightenment -- isn't that the narrative I'm asked to accept, at MIT, ehrm? -- Science as excising the ghosts of Religion, as Objective, lacking value judgments. Science is Truth and Truth Science -- that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

If all those parents weren't there looking all scared for their baybee grlz'n'boiz, I'd have said, as loud as I could: 1) "humanities" does not mean "book club" (unless, Herr Eremita argues, you go to St. John's); and 2) reading a book or watching a film does not a humanities scholar make. Clearly these kids are getting mixed signals, couped up in their labs with all those fumes and nuclear radiation.

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