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Yale Blinds Itself

Avert your eyes from the Caravaggio, children -- all that whiteness will burn them (PhotoFires/GettyImages)

Yale University continues to shit on its own patrimony for the sake of wokeness. Heather Mac Donald writes:

For decades, Yale offered a two-semester introductory sequence on the history of Western art. The fall semester spanned the ancient Middle East to the early Renaissance; the spring semester picked up from the High Renaissance through the present. Many Yale students were fortunate enough to take one or both of these classes while the late Vincent Scully was still teaching them; I was among those lucky students. Scully was a titanic, galvanizing presence, combining charismatic enthusiasm with encyclopedic knowledge. When the lights went down in the lecture hall, the large screen behind him, on which slides were projected, became the stage on which the mesmerizing saga of stylistic evolution played out. How did the austere geometry of Cycladic icons bloom into the full-bodied grandeur of the Acropolis’s Caryatids? Why were the rational symmetries of the Greek temple, blazing under Mediterranean light, replaced by the wild vertical outcroppings of the Gothic cathedral? What expressive possibilities were opened up by Giotto’s fresco cycle in the Arena Chapel?

Such questions, under Scully’s tutelage, became urgent and central to an understanding of human experience. Trips to the Yale Art Gallery supplemented his lectures, where it was hoped that in writing about an object in the collection, students would follow John Ruskin’s admonition that the “greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.” I chose to analyze Corot’s The Harbor at La Rochelle, being particularly taken by the red cap of a stevedore, one of the few jewel colors in a landscape of silken silvers and transparent sky blues.

She goes on:

Scully’s fall semester introductory art history course has been my anchor to the past, providing visual grounding in the development of Western civilization, around which it is possible to develop a broader sense of history.

But now, Yale is ending the course, for transparently false reasons of baroque wokeness, as Mac Donald writes. Yale claims it doesn’t want to privilege European art — but there are many non-European art courses at the university. More:

Barringer promises that the replacement surveys will subject European art to a variety of deconstructive readings designed to pull that tradition down from its alleged pedestal. The new classes will consider Western art in relation to “questions of gender, class, and ‘race,’” he told the Daily News in an email, carefully putting scare quotes around “race” to signal his adherence to the creed that race is a social construct. The new courses will discuss the involvement of Western art with capitalism. Most intriguingly, the relationship between Western art and climate change will be a “key theme,” he wrote.

Barringer’s proposed deconstruction of Western art illustrates a central feature of modern academia: The hermeneutics of suspicion (Paul Ricoeur’s term for the demystifying impulse that took over the humanities in the late 20 century) applies only to the Western canon. Western academics continue to interpret non-Western traditions with sympathy and respect; those interpreters seek to faithfully convey the intentions of non-Western creators and to help students understand what makes non-Western works great. So, while the replacement European art survey courses will, in Marissa Bass’s words, “challenge, rethink, and rewrite” art historical narratives, the department will not be cancelling its Buddhist art and architecture class due to the low representation of female artists and architects, nor will it “interrogate” (as High Theory puts it) African arts and cultures for their relationship to genocidal tribal warfare, or Aztec art and architecture for their relationship to murderous misogyny.

Read it all. 

This is about Yale University’s faculty deciding that it hates the West. There really is no other way to explain this.

What an extraordinary thing. Has there ever been a civilization whose elites turned on it in quite this way? The Soviets and their minions in Europe all but destroyed education by making most of it serve Marxism-Leninism, but if I understand it correctly, that was generally something imposed on university faculties. This is chosen. Yale is one of the richest universities in the world. Nobody is making it trash the West like this.

You might be thinking: “Don’t like it? Don’t send your kid to Yale.” That would be terribly naive. First, here’s Hannah Arendt, from 1951’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, talking about the cultural decay that paved the way for totalitarianism:

The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it.

And here’s Czeslaw Milosz, from The Captive Mind, which was published the same year:

It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.

His point: what happens in the universities, and wherever intellectual elites gather to do their work, eventually has massive impact on the rest of society.

Yale — rightly or wrongly — is a leading institution in American academic life. What it does today, others will do tomorrow (The New York Times serves the same function in American journalism). Yale is teaching the children of American elites to hate their civilization and the people who built it.

Somehow, we have to isolate the toxin, to keep it from infecting the rest of us. And we have to build institutions that will, like the early Benedictine monasteries, keep the traditions and knowledge of our civilization alive through the darkness now descending.

There have to be young people who know what’s happening to them, what’s being taken from them. Mac Donald writes:

Once word got out that this year would be the curtain call for the two introductory Western art courses, students stampeded to enroll.

I’m thinking this morning of an undergraduate I met last night at Bucknell. She talked about how she went to her anthropology class on one of the days of the Kavanaugh hearings, and the professor spent the day ranting about what a miserable white privileged sexist SOB Brett Kavanaugh was. The undergrad said to me, “I asked what any of this had to do with anthropology, and the teacher didn’t say anything.” She went on to say that she’s paying for an education, not pointless political ranting from professors.

Are people at Yale paying for an education? Or are they paying for credentialism that allows them access to the American elite? Why would you want to be part of a class and subculture so filled with hatred toward what is beautiful, and what is one’s own? These American educational elites are pathological.

Again, Arendt:

The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it.

Something is happening. Re-read what the Soviet emigre academic wrote me yesterday. This is going beyond the kind of complaints that conservatives have been making about academia since Allan Bloom’s book in the 1980s. There’s something even more deeply sinister here.

UPDATE: Get this — at Oxford, the Classics faculty is proposing to remove Homer and Virgil from the basic Classics course. Excerpt:

The Oxford Student has been notified about a proposal by the Classics faculty to remove the study of Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid from the Mods syllabus, a decision which has surprised many across the faculty.

This proposal forms part of a series of reforms aimed to modernise the first stage of the Classics degree, known as Moderations (Mods), which take place during Hilary term of second year for all students taking Classics courses across the university.

The Mods course, which is assessed by a set of ten exams at the end of Hilary, has been increasingly criticised in recent years, due to the attainment gaps found between male and female candidates, as well as between candidates who have studied Latin and/or Greek to A-Level (Course I) and those who have not (Course II).

If this goes through, you will be able to graduate from Oxford with a Classics degree, without having read the Iliad or the Aeneid. That, on the theory that girls will get higher scores, and we will all be better egalitarians.

“That’s so stupid!” says my 13-year-old daughter, who, in her classical Christian school, has already read the Iliad, the Aeneid, and the Odyssey.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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