2015 Archives

Gilbert Lecture Series: "A Future for the Humanities in a Secular Age: Tragedy and Translation"

October 30, 2015

Professor John Michael of the University of Rochester, who specializes in contemporary relations between academic intellectuals and popular politics, will speak on "A Future for the Humanities in a Secular Age: Tragedy and Translation" at SMU on Thursday, Nov. 5.

John MichaelThe lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be at 6 p.m. in Room 158 of the Foundren Science Building, 3215 Daniel Avenue. It is part of the Gilbert Lecture Series.

For progressive academics, the humanities have long been synonymous with critique, the rigorous deciphering of discourse or demystification of ideology.  For many of its practitioners, critique offered a way to engage the study of art and culture with the world at large and, frequently, with politics in the interest of reform.  

Today, neither an untroubled belief in critique’s rigor nor a clear sense of real possibilities for reform remains available.  This is the tragic dimension of this global moment.  Critique’s fundamental assumption, that the tropes of discourse shape the possibilities of action in the world, suggests that as we assess the nature of this tragic moment, and pay attention to the master trope of critique itself.  

As a mode of engagement with the specificities of audiences and ends in a radically heterogeneous world that offers limited but definite possibilities for intellectual action in the cultural sphere, translation serves as a more promising figure for the humanities than critique, demystification, or decipherment.  Translation may offer a more positive explanation of the ways in which art, culture, and even critique itself remain crucially important modes of engagement in a globalized and increasingly fragmented world.

John Michael is Professor of English and of Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester.  He is the author of Identity and the Failure of America from Thomas Jefferson to the War on Terror (Minnesota 2008); Anxious Intellects:  Academic Professionals, Enlightenment Values, and Democratic Politics (Duke 2000); and Emerson and Skepticism: the Cipher of the World (Johns Hopkins 1988); as well as many articles on contemporary criticism, cultural studies, and American literature.  

He is currently completing a book on secular modernity in nineteenth-century American poetry and beginning work on a book that will explore the future of the humanities in a tragic age.

Click here for more information about Michael.