For some reason, we think that poetry is this thing you do on the side, once you get your math done or your science done. Same thing with writing or any of the things we call “the arts” – there’s this idea that they’re just an elective, they’re just decoration, and they have nothing to do with our survival … or why we can stand to be here.

That’s the reason I’ve made it to 53 – because of finding these things that poetry or painting or place contain. That’s the stuff of mental health, and we ignore it at our peril.


Lynda Barry, brilliant as ever, in an interview about poetry. Pair with other luminaries on how the humanities make us human and E.O. Wilson on why science and the arts need one another.

Perhaps Wordsworth was right when he wrote that “poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge.”

Over the past 100 years, tens of thousands of academic books have been published in the humanities, including many remarkable works on history, literature, philosophy, art, music, law, and the history and philosophy of science. But the majority of these books are currently out of print and largely out of reach for teachers, students, and the public. The Humanities Open Book pilot grant program aims to “unlock” these books by republishing them as high-quality electronic books that anyone in the world can download and read on computers, tablets, or mobile phones at no charge. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are the two largest funders of humanities research in the United States. Working together, NEH and Mellon will give grants to publishers to identify great humanities books, secure all appropriate rights, and make them available for free, forever, under a Creative Commons license.
1) never apologize for your own breath
2) your life has no more value than that of a dandelion
3) be forever grateful
4) free your soul
5) know your power
6) feed yourself nothing other than yummy food, warmth and love
7) believe that you are the most beautiful flower to ever grow
8) laugh honestly
9) live soft
10) love hard
—  my decalogue
  • “The minute you enter grad school, you’re a professional. Grad school is not college, or at least not college as I experienced it, i.e., a special personal journey of exploration and wonder and alcohol. You’re at grad school to be professionalized into academia, and your behavior is expected to reflect that.
  • Your fellow grad students are your colleagues, not (necessarily) your friends. You’ll make good friends, of course you will, but relationships with most other grad students will be more like coworkers than buddies. So if they don’t come to your party, say, or don’t want to hang out after class, don’t be offended. That’s just not what it’s about for a lot of people.
  • You are supposed to go to all the departmental lectures, screenings, colloquia, etc. This stuff is not a fun extracurricular activity that you can hit or miss depending on your interests. Your attendance is expected and your absence is noticed. It’s part of being a good colleague.
  • Pick your classes according to the following criteria, in descending order of importance: 1) The professor is someone you want to know and might want to work with; 2) your seminar paper might come in handy for your oral exams or dissertation research; 3) you’re interested in the topic.”

Click on link to continue reading.

The Neverending Struggle
  • Me in a science class:That's cool.
  • ...this is the predominant theory? Is there an alternative theory? How did they arrive at that theory? Were there any dead ends on their road to discovery? Could you write a story about this? Would this make a nice painting? Does this have any philosophical implications? Could you use this in a different field? Now you're just using fancy formulas to sound smart, aren't you? I could write a song about this! This book needs more pictures. Could you prove this with anything other than maths? Are there different types of logic? Could aliens deduce this differently? Yeah, you've proven it, but could you go deeper? I mean, what does this really mean? Yeah, but what if ...
  • ...argh, this needs more culture and sophistication! There aren't enough violins and globes and profound existential questions and stuff!
  • Me in a humanities class:That's cool.
  • you have ten theories about how to define a word? Ten scholars have written about this metaphysical theory we aren't completely sure is even its own field? Okay, now you're just making stuff up. Could you actually prove this? Isn't this just conjecture? This book needs more logic. This theory needs some solid ground to stand on. Could you prove this with maths? Now you're just using fancy words to sound smart, aren't you? How many books can you write about this book? Didn't you just say this was an outdated idea? Why are you going deeper when you haven't even proven it yet? How many different phrases with slightly different meanings are you going to use? I mean, what does this really mean? Yeah, but what if...
  • ...argh, this needs more precision and logic! There aren't enough proofs and experiments and profound universal questions and stuff!

Sometimes people ask me why I’m so happy. They reference
from the old saying that only the stupid can be, well stupid enough to be

They ask of my perspective and how I think outside their spectrum.
And it’s not that I am smarter, it’s not that I’ve grown to learn etiquette and
morals and have mastered them, no. It’s that I haven’t been entrapped in the
life. We have it defined here. We have language, goals, the good and the bad
all “defined.” Yet they are different depending on the person. Money does buy
happiness and I don’t give a shit what people say. And it does so by buying
distractions, a stupor, a high, some euphoric fantasy.

I’m not above any of it. I like to drink. I enjoy a smoke.
Sex is, well try it and you tell me. But I’m outside the scope of what my car
represents. Whether my leather is real or not. I naturally love what’s
expensive, but that’s mostly because an animal made my belt or someone worked
their ass off to make the product I enjoy. But problems, worldly problems, they
don’t matter. Okay fine, so you had a bad day. Fine, so you are beginning to
lose hope. Fine, you’re all out of makeup; meanwhile, an animal hardly thinks
in words, the mountains only respond to lava, the stars are burning until they
engulf themselves into a supernova, and we’re worried about what someone thinks
of us? What a 16, 25, 50, whatever year old mind. What is really a brief lifespan,
16 or 50 rotations around the sun? And we worry if she loves me, we worry what
they’ll think of us. We worry for no good reason.

I’m not a very religious person, but I am spiritual. How can
you deny that? Look at us? I can’t deny my feelings, I can’t deny my joy or
pain or my love for books. But I know they shape me. I know that if I didn’t
have a language to define who I am, I wouldn’t be constrained in these norms.
So why am I so happy?

Because I’m free. I’m elated. I can step back and reflect on
the pathetic and I make a conscious effort to be present. I count seconds and
footsteps. I keep track of numbers and scatter plots. I try to look at me, at
us how the earth does. And it’s beautiful. Undefinable, immeasurable. Life is
my God. Fucking life, man. It feels good to breathe.

—  Looking at the Data.
To adapt to a changing world, we need new software for our cellphones; we also need new ideas. The same goes for literature, for architecture, languages and theology. Our world is enriched when coders and marketers dazzle us with smartphones and tablets, but, by themselves, they are just slabs. It is the music, essays, entertainment and provocations that they access, spawned by the humanities, that animate them — and us. So, yes, the humanities are still relevant in the 21st century — every bit as relevant as an iPhone.