The Hector Hypothesis: Disciplines, Difficulty, and Democracy
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Through an interrogation of the nature and value of encounters with “difficulty” in Humanities Higher Education, this essay aims to articulate some of the ways in which Humanities education itself, even in its least canonical and least prestigious manifestations, is of value. Beginning with a brief reading of a scene from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which models for readers unfamiliar with Humanities scholarship the kinds of questions a Humanities perspective on a text might raise, the essay argues that distinctions established in that play regarding conceptions of the nature of value underlie debates in literary studies over what should be studied, and why. It goes on to claim that an analogous distinction underlies approaches to the question of “difficulty” in Humanities education, and it then places this discussion in the context of an examination of a real moment from a real university seminar in which a student expresses frustration with the material he is studying. Chosen because it concerns disagreement prompted by texts which are neither canonical nor, on the face of it, difficult, this moment is used to exemplify a fundamental value of Humanities education, which offers a space wherein can be pursued and practiced an argumentational method whose fostering is fundamental to the health of liberal democracy.
KeywordsArgument English Humanities Troilus and Cressida English literary studies Difficulty
The workshop for which this paper was first written was generously funded by the Fritz-Thyssen Stiftung. I thank the participants of that workshop for their invigorating discussions, and Georgia Christinidis for her perceptive criticisms of an earlier draft of the essay.
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