In his article May 11 article for the Boston Globe titled Measure for Measure, Johnathan Gottschall writes:
We literary scholars have mostly failed to generate surer and firmer knowledge about the things we study. While most other fields gradually accumulate new and durable understanding about the world, the great minds of literary studies have, over the past few decades, chiefly produced theories and speculation with little relevance to anyone but the scholars themselves. So instead of steadily building a body of solid knowledge about literature, culture, and the human condition, the field wanders in continuous circles, bending with fashions and the pronouncements of its charismatic leaders.
Something that frustrates me no end about literary theory is its lack of understanding of the sciences, particularly when it purports to draw from them. Witness theorists who present their musings as meaningless mathematical formulae or draw on an at best limited understanding of physics. Nevertheless, these theorists manage to impress, because they most often happen to be addressing people who have no interest in either mathematics or physics (or biology or chemistry) and who are therefore happy to take their word for it because the theories in question are interesting and seem to make sense in context.
The other frustrating thing about literary theory is precisely its irrelevance to anything outside literary theory. Certainly it enhances the reading of literature and provides new and startling ways to conceive of the world created by literature and, given that literature is often seen as a reflection of real life, the world itself. But while it contains ideas and philosophies and suggestions that are a joy and a challenge to explore, it ultimately doubles back on itself without actually providing answers and students are left right where they started.
At the same time, it irritates me when the science bloggers I read make offhand, dismissive comments about the humanities and those who study them, saying things like "Even the arts students understand that intelligent design is bogus."* No we're not scientists, but why does that automatically make us the morons of academia? ID is a shoddily presented argument. You need only basic reason to see that, not deep scientific knowledge.
And while we're on common misconceptions, why are scientists so often cast as drones lacking all imagination? The rigors of method notwithstanding, I can't see a scientist as anything but imaginative. What is the development of a hypothesis if not a creative act?
We seem to be stuck in this very high-school perception that the arts=flaky vs. science=nerdy. Gottschall argues that this is simply unnecessary:
Above all, these changes would require looking with fresh eyes on the landscape of academic disciplines, and noticing something surprising: The great wall dividing the two cultures of the sciences and humanities has no substance. We can walk right through it.
I think he's absolutely right. If we all actually bothered to get to know each other, I think we would all realize that we are, at heart, all knowledge-obsessed geeks.
*This quote is illustrative only. It reflects only the tone of various statements littering the web, not the actual content.