Oct 11, 2012
Justifications of the humanities often employ a mythos that exceeds their historical dispositions and reach. This applies to justifications that appeal to an 'idea' of the humanities grounded in the cultivation of reason for its own sake. But the same problem affects more recent accounts that seek to shatter this idea by admitting an 'event' capable of dissolving and refounding the humanities in 'being'. In offering a sketch of the emergence of the modern humanities from early modern humanism, the paper argues that these twin philosophical justifications fail to capture both the array of intellectual arts that have informed the humanities disciplines and the variety of uses to which these arts have been put. Nonetheless, the two philosophical constructions have had a concrete impact on the disposition of the modern humanities, seen in the respective structuralist and poststructuralist reconfigurations of the disciplines that began to take place under the banner of 'theory' during the 1960s. In discussing the effects of theory on the humanities in Australia, Ian Hunter focuses on the unforseeable consequences of attempts to provide arts-based disciplines with a foundation either in cognitive structures or in an 'event' that shatters them.