Aldama traces the history of how various US administrations have manipulated university curriculums – from the CIA subsidising conferences and magazines, to the funding poured into the study of Middle Eastern languages, culture and history after 9/11; not to better engage with those countries but to better control them. . . .
Aldama reserves his real ire, though, for those whom he terms “idealists”. Whether they hail from history, literature or cultural studies, they all “privilege the mind over the material world” and imagine that if we change the way we speak, we change the world. That notion, which has its roots in the famous opening of the Gospel of St John – “In the beginning was the word” – contains some truth, but Aldama is surely right to point out that it has been given too much credence in recent years. . . .
Top of the list is encouraging “thoughtful and critical thinking”, the very things that learning and teaching are designed to suppress. But if you want a short answer to why the humanities matter, it’s this: we repeat that which is worth repeating, and that which is in danger of being forgotten. . . .
Ranging over topics as diverse as translation, music and the nature of modernity, Why the Humanities Matter is not an easy read. It’s strictly for the dedicated and certainly not for students. But persevere and the rewards are great; particularly enjoyable is Aldama’s debunking of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Lacan. For years they were worshipped as the Trinity instead of studied as thinkers, but here they are brought severely down to earth. The way is then cleared for establishing the humanities on a more empirical footing, whether it is the social or indeed the chemical. Aldama has a lot to say about neurons.