Skip to main content

Does Knowledge Still Have a Place in the Humanities?


Rasch offers two ways of approaching literary works and literary criticism. First, he insists that placing literary and critical texts within a theoretical or historical framework, when done with care, may enhance not only the understanding of literary works but also the pleasure one takes in reading them. Second, if literary scholars wish to insist that quantitative reasoning is not the only path to knowledge, then they must convince their potential readers that the written language of those whom they study—as well as their own prose—offer ways of finding “qualitative truths” that would otherwise be inarticulate. Rasch uses T. S. Eliot’s famous essay on the metaphysical poets as an example of such criticism.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-71139-9_6
  • Chapter length: 18 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
USD   119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-030-71139-9
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)


  1. 1.

    Grierson, Metaphysical Lyrics. The review was published in The Times Literary Supplement. I cite from the essay as it appears in Eliot, Selected Essays, published in 1951.

  2. 2.

    Eliot, Selected Essays, 283.

  3. 3.

    Eliot, 287.

  4. 4.

    Quoted in Eliot, 282.

  5. 5.

    Eliot, 282–83.

  6. 6.

    Quoted in Eliot, 287.

  7. 7.

    Yes, I am mimicking Donne. It is infectious.

  8. 8.

    Eliot, Selected Essays, 287.

  9. 9.

    Eliot, 288.

  10. 10.

    Kant, Political Writings, 51–52. Italics in the original.

  11. 11.

    Hegel, Reason in History, 12. Italics in the original.

  12. 12.

    Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality, 112.

  13. 13.

    Weber, Protestant Ethic, 99. The term “calling” appears in bold in the English text for reasons that have to do with pedagogical aims of the volume. I have changed the bold to conform to the way Beruf was framed. In contemporary German, Beruf generally means “profession,” “occupation,” “career,” and Ruf, among other things, “a call.” Weber evokes Martin Luther’s usage in the latter’s translation of the Bible. Here, in addition to the secular meaning, it can also refer to a call from God to eternal salvation. The pathos of my sentence—Beruf without a Ruf—exploits both the secular and divine notions to evoke the loss of the divine, the loss of transcendent meaning. See Weber, Protestant Ethic, 99–105; see also the translator’s note 3, pp. 306–310.

  14. 14.

    See Weber, Vocation Lectures, 30: “Our age is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and above all, by the disenchantment of the world. Its resulting fate is that precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have withdrawn from public life. They have retreated either into the abstract realm of mystical life or into the fraternal feelings of personal relations between individuals.”

  15. 15.

    Weber, Vocation Lectures, 17–18. Italics in the original.

  16. 16.

    Weber, 27.

  17. 17.

    Heidegger, “Age of World Picture.”

  18. 18.

    Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1.

  19. 19.

    Horkheimer and Adorno, 2.

  20. 20.

    What I call “fantasy” and “fallacy” was the project proposed by minds far greater than mine, including not least Heidegger, “Age of World Picture,” Husserl, Crisis of Sciences, and Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy? (the title essay) and Strauss, Natural Right and History, so I acknowledge unwarranted hubris. Another, if surprising, advocate of substantial or objective reason, Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (originally published 1947), gives the most succinct definition of the type of reason to be reclaimed: “The philosophical systems of objective reason implied the conviction that an all-embracing or fundamental structure of being could be discovered and a conception of human destiny derived from it” (12). Ironically sounding like the putative conservative Strauss, the Marxist-trained Horkheimer identifies the champions and the enemies of what he called objective reason: “Catholicism and European rationalist philosophy were in complete agreement regarding the existence of a reality about which such insight could be gained…The two intellectual forces that were at odds with this particular presupposition were Calvinism, through its doctrine of Deus absconditus, and empiricism, through its notion…that metaphysics is concerned exclusively with pseudo-problems” (16–17).

  21. 21.

    See for instance Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason, 6, fn. 1.

  22. 22.

    In repeatedly invoking the power of Eliot’s prose, I feel the necessity of reminding the reader also of Eliot’s irony, surely a complication (but not, I think, a refutation) of what I offer up for consideration. Here is Hugh Kenner’s take on Eliot’s literary-critical prose: “The Egoist reviews were often satiric in method. In a long sequence of reviews written for Middleton Murry’s Athenaeum, Eliot extended and generalized his Egoist manner into what was to be, until fame overtook him, his fundamental critical strategy: a close and knowing mimicry of the respectable. So thoroughly did he master this technique that he was able to compose two of his most important and blandly subversive essays, ‘Andrew Marvell’ and ‘The Metaphysical Poets,’ within the confines of reviewing commissions from The Times Literary Supplement itself. The rhetorical layout of essay after essay can best be described as a parody of official British literary discussion: its asperities, its pontification, its distinctions that do not distinguish, its vacuous ritual of familiar quotations and bathetic solemnities. The texture of an Eliot review is almost indistinguishable from that of its neighbors; only the argument, and the tone derived from an extreme economy of phrase, are steadily subversive” (Invisible Poet, 99).

  23. 23.

    Grierson, Metaphysical Lyrics, xvi.

  24. 24.

    See Eliot, Waste Land.


  • Eliot, T. S. Selected Essays. 3rd ed. London: Faber and Faber, 1951.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Edited by Valerie Eliot. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1971.

    Google Scholar 

  • Elliott, Jane, and Derek Attridge, eds. Theory After ‘Theory’. London: Routledge, 2001.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grierson, Herbert J. C., ed. Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1921.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hegel, G. W. F. Reason in History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heidegger, Martin. “The Age of the World Picture.” In Off the Beaten Track, edited and translated by Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Google Scholar 

  • Horkheimer, Max. Eclipse of Reason. New York: Continuum, 1974.

    Google Scholar 

  • Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Edited by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002.

    Google Scholar 

  • Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction into Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kant, Immanuel. Political Writings. 2nd ed. Edited by Hans Reis. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kenner, Hugh. The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1959.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morality. Edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson. Translated by Carol Diethe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rasch, William. “Theory After Critical Theory.” In Elliott and Attridge, Theory After ‘Theory’, 47–61.

    Google Scholar 

  • Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. What Is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Stephen Kalberg. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. The Vocation Lectures. Edited by David Owen and Tracy B. Strong. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to William Rasch .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Rasch, W. (2021). Does Knowledge Still Have a Place in the Humanities?. In: Sridhar, A., Hosseini, M.A., Attridge, D. (eds) The Work of Reading. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation