“Music Despite Everything”: The Crisis of the Humanities and the Courage to Teach

This essay offers a new explanation of the challenges Arts and Humanities programs and, in particular, language and literature programs currently face in higher education. Rather than focusing on the bitter intellectual and ideological battles fought within departments in the last several decades, it considers, instead, some of the larger social and institutional contexts in which they have taken place, especially the rapidly changing status of the Humanities in American universities since WW II. Specifically, the argument is that while the ideas at stake in pedagogy, curriculum, and theory do matter, if we want to find the truth, we need to follow the money. I then close with some observations about the vital role that poetry can play—as it has always played—in our response to the intellectual trends that, if left unchallenged, will cripple our ability as humanists to resolve our own field’s crisis of confidence.