Letter: July 15 – July 21

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A different look at why the humanities matters

Many thanks to Martin Jay for his defense of the humanities (“Why the humanities,” July 8). Alongside a halfhearted suggestion, half-abandoned in the penultimate sentence, that a humanities major is good for the career, he suggests that the humanities are about critical thinking, understanding and meaning. This kind of begs the question — “why the humanities” is also why thinking, why understanding, why meaning. We would be happy, Jay quotes Kafka, without books. Why not admit that humanity has turned animal? Beholding this, some will, in Jay’s word, struggle; others will sympathize with Job’s wife, who said to curse God and die. Martin Jay asks why the humanities; George Santayana asked, 121 years ago, what is a philistine. He concluded: “The time will come, astronomers and geologists assure us, when life will be extinct upon this weary planet. All the delights of sense and imagination of which I have been speaking will then be over. But the masses of matter which you ! have transformed with your machinery, and carried from one place to another, will remain to bear witness of you. The collocation of atoms will never be what it would have been if your feet had less continually beaten the earth. You have the happiness of knowing that, when nothing I value endures, the earth may still sometimes, because of you, cast a slightly different shadow across the craters of the moon.”

— Benjamin Letzler,

corporate lawyer