This Friday, 8 May at 1 PM, Rutgers Classics sponsors yet another mega-event: a guest lecture by cultural critic Lee Siegel. His topic? “Brother, Can You Seize a Diem: The Precious Worth of Useless Knowledge in Desperate Times”. It all goes down Friday at the Ruth Adams Building Room 207 (131 George Street), New Brunswick. [Note new location.] Special thanks to the office of the Vice President for Undergraduate Education at Rutgers-NB for making all this possible.
Siegel is the author of three books, most recently, of Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob (Random House 2008). He has also been the television critic for The New Republic, book critic for The Nation, art critic for Slate, staff writer at Harper’s and Talk, contributing writer for the LA Times Book Review, associate editor of ARTnews, and associate editor of Raritan. In 2002, Siegel received the National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. He writes frequently for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
For academic year 2008/9 Lee Siegel has been a visiting professor in Rutgers’ Departments of American Studies, History, and Journalism and Media Studies in its School of Communication, Information and Library Studies. In the fall he taught Literary Criticism, and this current term a class on Screen Culture.
What can we expect Friday afternoon? “There’s been much handwringing lately”, writes Siegel, “about how the economic crisis is having a terrible effect on the situation of the humanities in higher education. This is somewhat hysterical since the word ‘crisis’ and the word ‘humanities’ are almost synonyms. The humanities are always in crisis because the world does not smile upon means that are ends in themselves, on instrinsic rather than extrinsic worth.”
“Now, at a time when the pragmatic verities are being put into question, humanists should rejoice”, argues Siegel. “Instead there seems to be growing despair. However, this institutional anxiety is really the result of an institutional arrogance. The ‘humanities’ are in ‘crisis’ because the humanities are not just woefully dependent on institutions, but pridefully allied with them. They have become inseparable from their institutions and have grown indifferent to their own sources in life..”
So what is to be done? Budgets may be cut, jobs may seem to be scarce, but certain people will always aspire to be free by making clarity of consciousness a vocation. At this moment, when clarity in any sphere of life is rare, all the humanities need do to flourish is to run up the flag of active contemplation, creative indolence, and urgent irrelevance–to speak confidently about their original, non-institutional nature. And this entail a different way of looking at culture, which I will attempt to do in this talk.”
Want to get to Ruth Adams Building? Campus buses: EE College Ave to Cook/Douglass; F College Ave to Cook/Douglass via George Street; also REXB Busch to Cook/Douglass Express; REXL Livingston to Cook/Douglass Express. Or see driving directions here. Parking (metered) is best in the Parking Deck behind the Douglass Campus Center. For more details, see the Rutgers Classics homepage > Contact Us.
Lee Siegel visited Google’s Mountain View, CA, headquarters to discuss Against the Machine on 28 April 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series. You can view the event in its entirety below.