Saturday, February 12, 2011

Damon @ The Convent

No, I've not changed gender and taken vows.

Today I chatted with John Armstrong (right) at the 'Writers at the Convent' festival.

It was a friendly, lively (sometimes piss-taking) conversation, in front of a full-house.

Chaired by editor Russ Radcliffe (middle), we spoke chiefly about the humanities, and how to take them out of the academy, and into everyday life.  Some key points I remember:

- Ambition.  At best, the humanities are more than production lines for specialist papers.  They have a broader, higher mission. Some disciplines can work without lay-folks' understanding: I don't need to know about bridge engineering to drive on the Westgate.  But the humanities only work through informing, illuminating, clarifying. To achieve this, we have to stop talking amongst ourselves.

- Responsibility: Scholars in the humanities can't expect institutions to do this for us.  We have to be the changes we want, and then demonstrate how institutions can reward and support this.

- Love: Much of what moves the humanities is love.  Not romantic love, but adoration of something beautiful or good.  The best poetry, painting, history, philosophy is an outgrowth of this: sharing what's striking, elegant, tragic, invigorating, and the like.  Or defending these against what suppresses or defiles them.  In doing so, we expand what I called the 'commonwealth of love'.

Not bad for a Saturday morning, I reckon.

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