Grand Narratives as Moe Elements

I have recently been reading through Azuma Hiroki’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. In it, he puts forth the theory that a database has replaced the Grand Narratives of modernity. He’s dealing with a lot of theory on postmodernity that has a long history of discourse by other philosophers and theorists, but he sums up the basic ideas quite succinctly:

[In modernity] Various systems were consolidated for the purpose of organizing members of society into a unified whole: this movement was a precondition for the management of society. These systems became expressed, for instance, intellectually as the ideas of humanity and reason, politically as the nation-state and revolutionary ideologies, and economically as the primacy of production. Grand narrative is a general term for these systems… Modernity was ruled by the grand narrative. In contrast, in postmodernity the grand narratives break down and the cohesion of the social entirety rapidly weakens. (p.26)

Advertisements

Teaching Literature and Information Resolution

Recently there has been a lot of conversation about the value of the humanities. It seems that increasingly people have been questioning the value of disciplines like literature. If, as seems to be the popular perception, higher education exists primarily as institutions for job training and credentialing, what is the point of teaching literature? Reading Flaubert doesn’t train any job skills or increase anyone’s employability. And as the cost of higher education goes up, these seemingly irrelevant courses begin to just look like a frivolous expense ripe for cutting, at least from general education requirements. And, of course, the study of literature doesn’t generally lend itself well to machine-graded tests and large lectures, meaning teaching literature is largely unaffected by the efficiency gains technology might bring to higher ed, making its cost relative to other courses seem higher. So why teach literature, much less require a couple of literature courses of every student, as most universities now do?

Well, I tend to think that the study of literature is inherently valuable (although I admit I’m a bit biased there). The ability to analyze a text is a critical skill that is immediately transferable and applicable to many areas of life: a law, company memo, conversation with a boss or TV commercial can be picked apart and analyzed for meaning in the same way literature can. Indeed, the move to emphasize job training over the humanities and the analytical skills they endow is a little creepy to me; an attempt to turn higher education into an apparatus that produces workers with the skills to be productive but none of the analytical capacity to question. And the ability to write, which students learn in humanities courses, is a crucial communications skill that anyone with even a modicum of responsibility in the corporate world must have.

But those are the arguments already out there, and many people remain unconvinced. So I’d like to throw another idea about why literature is valuable into the ring. Continue reading