Social Scientist. v 17, no. 196-97 (Sept-Oct 1989) p. 39.

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Humanities: Who Needs Them Anyway?

In 1959, C.P. Snow made an influential formulation regarding the two mutually exclusive and even hostile cultures that had emerged in British academic life. On the one side were ranged the adherents of the traditional kinds of knowledge, the philosophers and the historians, the men of literature and of culture; on the other, the acolytes of science, immeasurably strengthened and even emboldened by their alliance with technology and so with commerce. The course of the British debate is not of immediate relevance to us here—but Snow's formulation enables us to see that, in our context, there are no two cultures. A kind of mechanistic vision which hardly deserves the name of science has acquired almost total dominance. The only culture is that of narrow-minded Gradgrinds, energetic helots vainly trying to fit the complexity of human response into simple utilitarian equations. The fact that the State itself has taken to braying about a kind of prettified 'culture* is only part of the problem: the elimination of the profoundly serious vision and culture of the humanities from all public discourse including, crucially, the discourse regarding education itself. It must be recognised, however, that the humanities themselves have made a significant contribution to this process of their annihilation. If the humanities—as practised —had not dwindled into triviality and irrelevance, there might at least have been a whimper of protest at their unceremonious deletion. My task in this essay is, therefore, a difficult one. I seek not only to criticise the mechanistic and reductive vision of human possibility that motivates the authors of the New Education Policy (NEP); but I seek to do so in the name of a conception of the humanities that must also be a critique of the existing practice of the humanities, and of their decline into fatuous marginality.

There is, thus, an element of poetic justice in this infliction of the NEP—a suggestion, as in ancient folk tales, of the process by which destiny, like some ghostly and infinitely painstaking adjudicator, fabricates ironic but also strangely adequate rewards. Thus, the failure of the education system really to educate any one at all has finally come to haunt it in the shape of illiterate policy makers. Its own grotesque and deformed products are come back to pass judgment upon it.

* Dept. of English, Allahabad University, Allahabad.

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