I’ve been reading theology this week, preparing for my talks next weekend in Wichita. I came across a basic concept that clarified my thoughts: a symbol is something that both points to something greater, and participates in it.
With that in mind, this Inside Higher Education interview with Sidonie A. Smith, a “noted humanities professor” who has written a new book about the crisis in the humanities, is a symbol of that crisis. Observe how she talks:
Q: What is the “possibly posthuman humanities scholar” and how does this idea relate to doctoral education?
A: Writing this book, I came to see the new scholar subject as a performative of passionate singularity, hybrid materiality and networked relationality. This is one sense in which the humanities scholar that is becoming is possibly posthuman, and a posthumanist scholar. The locus of thinking, for the prosthetically extendable scholar joined along the currents of networked relationality, is an ensemble affair. It involves the scholar, the device, the algorithm, the code. It involves the design architecture of platform and tool, the experiential architecture of networks, and the economy of energy. It involves the cloud, the crowd and the “rooms,” bricks and mortar and virtual, in which scholarly thinking moves forward. Ultimately, thinking is a collaborative affair of multiple actors, human and nonhuman, virtual and material, elegantly orderly and unruly.
Yes, the mode of doing humanities scholarship in the academy has commonly been described as that of the isolated scholar producing a long-form argument in the shape of the book, and faculty needs have commonly been described as individual study, computer screen, archive and time. In this time, however, possibly posthuman humanities scholars are accumulating new skills, including that of design architecture and algorithmic literacy. They are at once multimediated self-presenters; self-archivers; bricoleurs of intellectual inquiry, individual and collective; anonymized databases; networked nodes of a knowledge collaboratory involving scholars, students, laypeople, smart objects, robots. Networked scholars are not only connected to knowledge communities close at hand — in the room, so to speak — but also connected across the globe in an interlinked ecology of scholarly practices and knowledge economies. But even as we shift our notion of the scholarly subject, it is necessary to recognize the less salutary aspects of the transformation of the humanities scholar. That subject is already captured in the big quantification engine of higher education. How these working habits and scholarly subjectivities will evolve in the midst of future technologies and cultures of sociality can only be dimly glimpsed. That is a subject of inquiry the posthumanist scholar can pursue in thinking about what thinking is now.
Read the whole thing. I dare you to find anything that sounds human in that interview. With a noted humanities professor. Who is trying to address the crisis in graduate humanities education. It’s like asking Siri how to fix a factory.
If the future of humanities education depends on people who think and talk like this, as a technician of arcana studies, it is doomed.
Steven Hayward mined excellent comedy out of this claptrap, comparing Prof. Smith’s discourse to Prof. S.K. Hammerhead III, Jr.’s evaluation of the Rutles.