Sunday, October 17, 2010

"The Humanities Are Not a Luxury"

Or, Goose Makes Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

September 30 was a day of apocalyptically bad weather in the Washington area. To say it was raining cats and dogs is to understate the case considerably. To say it was raining elephants and blue whales, with interludes of giraffes and hippopotamuses, comes closer, but even that doesn't quite capture the deep dreariness and tropical weirdness of the day.

In Roxie's World and on the campus of Queer the Turtle U, however, September 30 was a day of celebration and inspiration, as our very own Goose delivered her much anticipated lecture, "The Humanities Are Not a Luxury: A Manifesto for the 21st Century." The lecture was part of the prize package that went along with Goose winning a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award this year at QTU, which is a pretty big deal on account of just a handful are made each year. We grew to like the poster advertising the series of DS-T lectures, once we got used to an image that at first looked like Emily Dickinson was smoking crack through a saxophone. (One of Goose's fellow awardees is a sax player from the School of Music.)

Goose's 45-minute lecture, delivered to an overflow crowd of more than 200 weather-braving souls, was a stirring affirmation of the value of the humanities and a shrewd critique of the rhetoric of crisis that so often characterizes discussions of the field. The talk was by turns folksy and fiery, as Goose compellingly wove together insights gleaned from her career as a scholar of poetry and a builder of institutions with recent reflections on the state of the humanities by good guys like our blog boyfriend Chris Newfield. Lest you think we are something less than objective when it comes to our Goose, here's how the event has been described by a neutral observer from the QTU English department:
Throughout her lecture, Professor Smith was gracious and seemed jazzed to be addressing such an enthusiastic crowd.  She was warm, funny, and above all, impossibly smart.  Smith made profound historical connections between the humanities and their perceptions over time, musing upon the generative and integral nature of the humanities in academia.  Smith iterated the vital nature of humanities studies for our university, our collective histories, and our society.
"Impossibly smart": Well, yes, but you know she still has to ask Moose for help every time she wants to heat something up in the microwave. "Two and a half minutes on 7," Moose says patiently, knowing that all those deep thoughts in her partner's brain occasionally crowd out the mundane facts of daily life.

Follow that link, darlings, and you will be able to watch the tape of the whole fabulous shindig, including the hilarious and heartwarming introduction in which Goose sings and Moose interrupts the proceedings to correct a botched joke. Late in the lecture, Goose works in a clever reference to this humble blog by invoking the phrase excellence without money (™RW Enterprises, LLC) to describe the unrealistic expectations the public has for institutions of higher ed these days. We held off blogging about the occasion until the tape was available, but now it is, so there you are. Go watch it. You can't spend all day grading papers, and if you are grading on this impossibly beautiful autumn afternoon then you are probably in need of a little professional inspiration. Pop some corn, crack open a beer, and press play, my pretties. Rev. Goose is down front and has some testifyin' to do.

Congratulations, Goose, and thanks for bringing sunshine to us every single day. Sing it with us, kids. You know you want to:


  1. Well, what can Goose say 'cept she LOVES this and is smiling through happy tears? And. . .she wants one of those wonderful purple suits that the Temptations are wearing. Just think if she could lecture in that!

    Goose loves the Rox and the Moose.

  2. GlassPen4:30 PM EDT

    @Goose: thoroughly enjoyed your lecture. Goose shirt = nice touch. Congratulations on this impressive honor.

    N.B.: took a class from Mark Yudof ca. 1979 called "Educational Policy and the Law"...considered a very soft subject in law school. However clumsy his language--and I'm not excusing it--I think he is trying to find a way to pay for offering all higher ed opportunities to largest number of people possible...tough political slog in CA and everywhere else at the moment. Strongly agree with you that taking back language and framing the debate on terms favorable to Humanities is vital.

  3. Partway through the lecture I just had to leave my hearty "thank you" for a great stab at this vexing viewpoint.

  4. Finally watching Goose's entire lecture: I AM turned on! Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Congrats on the prize!

    Now, on to the poster: It's shocking that there wasn't a single person in the chain of production of that poster who had the sense to say, "Umm, wait a second. Really?"

  6. Congrats on the prize, and thanks for speaking out on the humanities!


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