Germanic Languages | New Lit Theory
G505 | 25714 | M. Chaouli/Wahrman


The Truth of the Humanities: How and Why We Do What We Do
This course is for students who wonder about the collective project
in which we are all involved. Are scholars in the humanities
involved in the production of truth? Knowledge? Pleasure? Why should
society support this endeavour? Would the world be any different if
tomorrow  we cease to exist?
Co-taught by a historian and a literary critic, this course will
strive to sharpen students’ awareness of the value, the meaning, and
the limitations of the humanist enterprise. Questions for discussion
are likely to include: what are the concepts of truth in the
humanities? What kinds of knowledge do the humanities produce? How
does truth relate to rhetoric or to aesthetic discourse? To what
extent can the humanities be thought of as a science (a
Wissenschaft), and to what extent should they be thought of in that
way? What are the functions of theory, criticism, or disciplines,
and is their history relevant to their purpose? What is the meaning
of originality – can truth be original? How do we approach questions
of evidence? What is the function and meaning of prevalent terms of
censure – “essentialism”, “eurocentrism”, “master
narrative”, “presentism”, “positivism” and the like – and indeed
also of terms of praise (“subversive”, “complex”)? What can the
humanities learn from the ‘hard’ sciences, especially those studying
humans – biology, genetics, cognitive psychology?
We will discuss both seminal texts by leading thinkers and the
students’ own contributions to our questions. The class will be
visited by well-known scholars who have taken positions on issues of
interest to our topic, among them Professor Martha Nussbaum of the
University of Chicago.