Anthony Grafton, a some-time historian of science whom I idolize after hearing (and seeing) him speak but once, has a brief article on Slate about how great a certain class he co-teaches is. It’s almost inspiring enough to make me think that the humanities matter even when they don’t have much to do with the history of science. But what I really like about it is the reading selection philosophy Grafton describes: the most interesting and provocative books possible, period.
I’m as big a fan of the Enlightenment as anyone, in theory. Unity of truth, and all that. But it actually kinda sucks as an educational philosophy. Enlightenment ideology is no match for the utter disunity of knowledge in vivo (be it scientific, historical, philosophical, or what have you). Much more effective, I think, is a cherry-picking approach that aims at sparking the interest of students. You don’t learn enough in a classroom to really put knowledge to use, anyway. But if you find something worth learning more about, maybe one book or one idea is all it takes to push you in the right direction. Life is too short to read boring books (and grad school doubly so).
Fortunately, I’m in the most interesting of all possible fields, where even the lesser work is worth reading. But it always baffles me how so many others in other humanities find their esoterica worth pursuing.
Incidently, when I Googled to make sure “esoterica” was a word, I found a scholarly journal by that name, which seems to be about what JQSMP would be if the humor were removed.