Pole-dancing and the end of universities as centres of humane critique

We are living through a point in the history of Western academia so momentous it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around it – namely, the effectual end of universities as centres of humane critique, the effectual end of an enormously rich and diverse and valuable tradition, which has always had to struggle to carve out a task for itself that is often at odds with the priorities of society. Today, in almost every country in the world, academia is capitulating, almost without a struggle, to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.

Thus Terry Eagleton in an interview published in Third Way, February 2015, who adds:

A couple of years ago, I was being shown around the biggest university in South Korea by its proud president and I made the unseemly blunder of saying: ‘There doesn’t seem to be anything critical going on here.’ He looked at me as though I had said, ‘How many PhDs in pole-dancing have you awarded?’ With the best will in the world, he had absolutely no idea what I meant.

Homeless Jesus

I came across this amazing sculpture entitled Homeless Jesus in the April issue of Third Way.

Homeless Jesus

Apparently, it has been installed with a plague featuring words from Matthew 25:40:

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

What this picture doesn’t show is that the artist Timothy Schmalz (shown below) left room for one person to sit next to Homeless Jesus.

Homeless Jesus with artist

I have since discovered the following pictures of the sculpture in the rain and snow, which make it even more poignant.

It appears that the sculpture had to be moved from its original location because of objections by residents. One such objection is quoted in Third Way:

My complaint is not about the art-worthiness or the meaning behind the sculpture. It is about people driving into our beautiful, reasonably upscale neighborhood and seeing an ugly homeless person sleeping on a park bench.

Hmm, there’s a lesson in there somewhere …

On beauty and writing

These thoughts by Elisabeth Pike on beauty and writing resonated with me. They’re from an article entitled ‘Space to create’, which appeared in Third Way, April 2014.

I have heard it said that writing is as much about staring at the empty page as it is about writing. I love that. It takes the pressure off; it gives permission to dream. As Nabokov said in Lectures on Literature, the words will arrive when they are ready: ‘the pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamouring to become visible.’

Pike then quotes some lines from Virginia Woolf’s In a Room of One’s Own on idling and comments:

To idle! Did you hear that? There is always beauty to be found, whether we are at home looking after toddlers, or paying the rent with a day job.

And again:

The beauty is always there … you just have to take the time, open your eyes and perceive it.

And she quotes from Raymond Carver’s essay ‘On Writing’, published in Fires:

A writer sometimes needs to be able to stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.

This, as Pike concludes, is what it’s about:

To live, to see, to idle, to communicate wonder!

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Cynicism and trust

While cynicism is no less reasonable than trust, the latter is much more enjoyable and life affirming.

Thus Jo Carruthers in a review of Javier Marías’s novel The Infatuations. While it seems obvious to me that trust is always the better option and is indeed more life-affirming than fear or cynicism, I love the idea that it is also more enjoyable. I had never looked at it from that angle, I suppose, but it’s true.

The review, which appeared in Third Way, June 2013, has also whetted my appetite for the novel, which is said to explore existential questions of life, death, love and morality. It looks a fascinating read.