Friday, July 4, 2008

City of Words

Tonight I listened to the last part of Alberto Manguel's Massey Lecture on CBC, City of Words.

I am an unapologetic fan of CBC Radio. I believe that a great deal of government money could be saved if we scrapped the first two years of undergraduate courses in humanities programmes and instead made CBC listernership mandatory. While somewhat dumbed-down in maths and sciences, I'm confident that it would provide a solid, well-rounded, liberal education. If one doesn't listen to Ideas at 9PM on Radio One, one is generally a less educated person for it.

Manguel's lecture was incredible - significantly better than some previous Massey Lectures, and better by leaps and bounds than one or two lecturers I've heard . In 5 parts, Manguel described the connections between stories, literature, and identity, and how changes in our understanding of specific pieces and genres of literature reflect changes in human society.

A recurring and fascinating theme in the lectures is the relationship between the city-dweller and the wild man, the civilized and the barbarian, the community and the outsider. It really is a fascinating and timeless subject (and upon hearing Manguel, I will have to look further into the epic of Gilgamesh and Enkidu).

One comment he made, in a digression about the Crusades, stuck me as an insightful comment on the centuries-old relationship between Europeans and the Muslim world.

I can't recall verbatim, but it was something like ". . .the Muslim Arabs were horrified by this senseless barbarity, and, in feeling themselves transformed in the perception of the other, themselves became a perceiving self."

Too bad the CBC doesn't post the lectures online. The CDs are expensive . . . though perhaps worth the price.

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Emily Gusba said...

Make listening to the CBC mandatory (or at least give credit for it)? Sure. CBC Radio = good. But would it provide the equivalent of the first two years of an undergraduate liberal arts education? Ah, no. (Not if it is being taught properly.) You can make statements about how good/comprehensive the quality of the CBC is for math/science - that's your sandbox. Please don't be so blinkered as to underestimate the complexity of mine. (My liberal arts sandbox that is. And of course you're always welcome to come play!)

Emily Gusba said...
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The Proud Islamist said...
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The Proud Islamist said...

Ok, if it makes you feel better, I leave Literature departments alone. At some point, people actually have to read the books.

To paraphrase Huxley though, I have met too many humanities students who "had no idea about humanity - theirs, or anyone else's" I am shocked at the inability of poli sci students to say anything interesting about government or politics, or philosophy students to explain anything in philosophy.

It's not that the fields aren't complex or worthwhile. It's just that large numbers of people who've attended university to study them don't seem to have benefited much from it.

Emily Gusba said...

"Better," yes - but only in that your judgement is partially redeemed in my eyes, not due to some kind of absolution of literature from on high (read: you). Note: I'm not trying to be snarky. I just didn't think you were right. ;D

Now, as to large numbers of people not seeming to have benefitted from their education: agreed. But this may be due in large part to the fact that large numbers of people often can't say anything intelligent about ANYTHING, although they can manage to muddle through most things (such as a uni degree).