Monday, October 4, 2010

Reading Journal: Intro to Occasion

I'm going to work my way through this one, in an attempt to jump back into the literary scene. (These are working notes, so excuse me in advance if obscure or boring).

The introduction begins with a quotation by C. P. Snow, from The Two Cultures, 1959:

I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two groups. When I say the intellectual life, I mean to include also a large part of our practical life, because I should be the last person to suggest the two can at the deepest level be distinguished.... Literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other scientists.... Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding.... This polarisation is sheer loss to us all. To us as people, and to our society. It is at the same time practical and intellectual and creative loss, and I repeat that it is false to imagine that those three considerations are clearly separable.
I've never heard of this guy, or his book, but I can see from its prominent placement at the top of the page that this is probably someone important. So I think before I can go further, I might want to go find some basic information about who he is. I also note that this is a quotation from the end of the 1950's, so this tells me I'm jumping into a conversation that has been going on for some time. I might not have a good sense of the /kairos/ as I understand the term from my old English 1B textbook.

I've gone and looked at the wikipedia article on this, (if you're an academic, you can feel free to cringe now) but if it's accurate I get the general idea that Snow was British, a scientist, and that the quotation in question is probably from the published version of a "Rede lecture" (which also seems to be something important and influential that I should know about, but don't) and he gave the lecture in question in 1959. Further reading through wikipedia would indicate that the lecture/publication/subsequest follow up sparked a larger discussion in the literary and scientific communities, and that the "two cultures" phrase is often used in discussing these ideas.

Ok, I get the general idea that there's some context here that I might need to know in order to fully understand, and that this issue of Occasion is going to address an ongoing and existing dialogue.

The second quotation is by E. O. Wilson, Consilience, 1998:
If the natural sciences can be successfully united with the social sciences and the humanities, the liberal arts in higher education will be revitalized.... The future of the liberal arts lies ... in addressing the fundamental questions of human existence head on, without embarrassment or fear, taking them from the top down in easily understandable language, and progressively rearranging them into domains of inquiry that unite the best of science and the humanities at each level of organization in turn.

Another wikipedia search and I note that (if accurate) he was also a biologist, this time writing in the late nineties (which I at least have the advantage of having lived through, so that helps.) He also seems to be talking about a desire to unite, or "marry" is the word that comes to mind, the humanities with science.

OK, so we are beginning with two different quotations, one from the late fifties/right before the sixties, and one from the late nineties/right before the (what the heck is this decade called? the early tens?? Millenium?). Just went and searched online for what to call this decade. I'd settle for the British "naughts" ;) but the consensus seems to be the 2000s. Yuck. (And a really loooong decade). I guess numerically, it should be the zeroes, right? The tens will be the next decade. No wonder everyone likes the twenties and never talks about the tens except as "turn of the century."

Anyway... back to the article.

The essays in this inaugural issue of Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities,
So this is the first issue of the journal. And given that this is meant to be an interdisciplinary effort, I can see why they would pick this topic as worth addressing in the first one. Let me look up interdisciplinary:

accoring to merriam-webster free online dictionary, it's "involving two or more academic, scientific, or artistic disciplines." I also had a nice detour into finding out what the word "Sanctimommy" meant. Ah, the web!
are precisely focused on confronting, head-on, the idea of “two cultures” via a sustained interdisciplinary conversation
So the essays in this journal will "confront" (which seems to mean something like "face" here- only more agressive overtones- they will be confrontational?) and "head-on" also implies more emphasis, something like "directly." They will directly confront an idea. The idea they will confront is the "two cultures" idea (by which I think they mean the larger, ongoing discussion implied in the wikipedia piece, not confined to the actual words of the first quote). These essays (and by extension, the authors of the essays) will take on, confront, the "two cultures" idea, by a "sustained" conversation. I guess that means an ongoing one? I'm not sure what the sustained word implies here. But a sustained, or ongoing, "interdisciplinary conversation." I don't know if this means a conversation between authors from different disciplines? I guess it must, since I don't think they are just talking about the content being more than one discipline.

I'm tired and I'm only through a few lines at the beginning! These essays will talk about the idea of "two cultures" by directly facing the idea, using talk that will go on over a period of time, between people from different academic disciplines. I think implied here also is that the different talking people will be some from science and some from humanities, since those seem to be the two main "cultures" talked about in the quote.

I know that's a very bad breakdown, but I am trying to get this. Oh, I'm not even done with this quote yet.

surrounding a key object—human behavior.
So the object
Deemed by many to be the most powerful tool for understanding human action, rational choice theory has been the subject of extensive debate in the social sciences, in particular, in the fields of economics, psychology, sociology, and political theory. Embraced by some as a normative tool and others as a descriptive one, rational choice theory can be linked to what I will call "rational choice thinking," a term I use to name the assumptions that undergird rational choice theory and find even greater mobility than rational choice theory within and without the aforementioned fields and disciplines. These suppositions that grow out of the belief that human choices and behaviors can be evaluated in a way that transcends (or subordinates, at least) particular issues of history, culture, gender, class, and race have colored, it seems, a broad range of intellectual activities and, indeed, have become a key element in discourses about globalization, which relies on certain notions of translatability, if not universalism.

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