QOTD: A new literacy?

In typically portentous tones, George Steiner notes the declining influence of the humanities and proposes a new literacy based on mathematics, music and architecture:

A new literacy, as I imagine it, would have a core syllabus in mathematics, in music, and in architecture. The three domains of the human spirit can, where preferable, be taught historically. The computer, at the level of early schooling, makes them interactive with the imagination and reasoning faculties of the student. They open sensibility to the outermost reaches of the conceptual and the most immediate dilemmas in the world around us. Most important, they embody a virtually incommensurable potential of fun, of play, of aesthetic delight. Homo ludens to the turbulent heart of his being (where the experiencing of wit in mathematics, of humor in music, of playfulness in architecture, are, themselves, a pedagogy for hope). No man or woman should feel themselves to be literate without some grasp of what is a nonlinear equation, without an intimation of why and how a musical score speaks the only world language, without a perception of the issues at stake, both aesthetic and practical, formal and political, when a new building rises on his or her horizon. How else can we endeavor to be at home in what a great thinker has called “the house of being”? [The Kenyon Review]

He wonders if the two cultures argument of C.P. Snow has been superseded by a third culture, a culture in which the digital embraces and reconfigures work and learning.
An aside: I sometimes wonder whether the focus of much digital library activity on the digtization and management of special collections owes something to the humanities background of many librarians.

2 thoughts on “QOTD: A new literacy?”

  1. On the aside, from personal experience I’d say the focus on special collections has far more to do with 1. avoiding potential copyright infringement litigation, and 2. the potential to attract external grant funding than with having a humanities background. Materials dating from the 19th century or earlier don’t have any copyright issues to worry about, and there aren’t many grant agencies willing to throw dollars at digitizing back issues of journals that are still being published.

  2. “A new literacy, as I imagine it, would have a core syllabus in mathematics, in music, and in architecture.”

    Sounds properly “deranged” to me. And not of the kind intended. In such a mix where do ideas come into play — which is what you’d expect from a more “traditional” approach.

    I’m tempted to ask, when were the humanities not in crisis? Rather than dumping them over the side, I’d look at our current networking and communication possibilities as an opportunity to build them up.

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