(At least the book people get to do their wandering in an aromatic forest alongside a scenic riverbank; right now my office is deep in an interior building, devoid of natural light. Though I live in a stunningly beautiful place, while at work I don't get to see it, not even through a window. Such is the current status of the English professor in 2014.)
While the "book people" could at least see the light of day, we do have one advantage on them: the possibility to connect through technology. I know, I know—it’s popular for people like us (i.e., people who read) to bash technology as evil, to view the computer and/or the TV and/or the video game console and/or the smart phone as contributors to the dumbing-down of humanity, the fall of literacy, and perhaps the end of civilization as we know it. Here again I think of Fahrenheit 451, when the once-professor Faber opines: "It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books. . . . The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios, and televisors, but are not. No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it . . . Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us."
Faber makes a good point--after all, Mein Kampf was a book. Nor is there anything inherently evil in pictures that move and speak (for instance, I never grow tired of hearing Martin Luther King orating on the National Mall, speaking aloud his dream). We all know people who use technology poorly—hey, at times we may even be those people—but we can also use it productively. In the spirit of Faber's advice to take "the magic" where we can find it, I hope this blog will help more of us to "store" a lot of non-tangible things: literature, of course (in many forms and genres, from many places), as well as music, film, theatre, art, history, comparative religion, philosophy, and all forms of human expression and their study—the stuff we learn how to do and/or to appreciate not because we hope to make big bucks by doing so, but because the process of pursuing these endeavors adds value and meaning to our lives in ways that go far beyond making more money and acquiring more "stuff."
I’d also like to invite positive discussion and sharing of ideas--to take the humanities out of the so-called "ivory tower" (which in my case is more like a dungeon, lacking ivory). The humanities are crucial for everybody, not just those who teach, study, and/or practice them formally. The humanities have much to offer people from all walks of life, regardless of occupation, educational level, income, social status, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or any number of the many artificial barriers that fool us into thinking we don't share a common humanity. It is my hope that if we join together, those of us who care about keeping the arts and humanities alive--both within and outside traditional venues such as the academy--can convince more people to care and to work toward that end.
My goal here is ridiculously ambitious: I want nothing less than to change our cultural conversations. I want to broaden our sense of “what education is for,” to challenge unfair stereotypes of the hapless English major (or any arts/humanities student), and to persuade people that the humanities matter. I want to challenge the present cultural biases against anything that cannot be quantified in numerical terms. Like Bradbury's "book people," our goal is to keep cultural memory alive as we journey to a yet unknown place, anticipating a future in which a broader spectrum of society cares, as we do, about storing "a lot of things we [are] afraid we might forget." Maybe that is too much to expect, but we all owe it to ourselves to try. As Bradbury put it so well in his freakishly prescient novel: "Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”