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February 4, 2009

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Book Update: First Deadlines, Production Brainstorm

Wow! We’re off to a great start towards a book on the new liberal arts. How do I know? My scrollbar gets teeeeny-tiny when I click that link.

We’re talking about potential NLAs like archiving, attention economics, branding, collaboration, home economics, mapping, micropolitics, photography, play, urbanism, writing for computers — the list goes on and on. And I’m realizing that we’re going to have to get good at a bunch of these new skills, fast, just to make this thing.

So what comes next? Starting this weekend, we’ll reach out to some contributors from the comment thread on that original post; then, we’ll all spend the next week writing and editing. The deadline for copy will be Monday, February 16.

After that… we design the book!

Then, of course, there’s printing; we’re thinking hard about that step. If you have any tips, insights, or leads related to that part of the process, we’d love to hear them. You can leave a comment on this post or send an email: Is there a printing company you love? Some new print-on-demand scheme that we should know about? Elephant poop paper? Etc.

Look for another book update early next week. And, if you haven’t yet suggested a new liberal art of your own — now is precisely the time! Jump in.

Seriously, look at that scrollbar. It’s barely there.

Posted February 4, 2009 at 11:12 | Comments (7) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, New Liberal Arts


(I'm kidding; under no circumstances will we print this book on elephant poop paper.)

In the nineteenth century, people really did experiment with manure to make paper. Not sure about elephants, though.

This thread, and the book that will issue from it, is of the greatest interest to me, because I am devoting my four year-old site, The Daily Blague, to humanism. Not "secular humanism" — tireless atheism, with which I have no complaint, but it's not what I'm concerned with; and not "the humanities" — the somewhat reactionary attempt to dust off Plato and Aristotle as thinkers with plenty to say to today's (largely Catholic) traditional intellectuals. What I have in mind when I talk of the "humanities" does not appear to have a presence on the Internet.

Two facts: I'm sixty-one, and I studied Great Books at Notre Dame. So I know about the Catholic thing and the Plato-and-Aristotle thing (I have read them extensively, although not in a while) and the secular humanist thing as well. As for the liberal arts, I know them up close and personal, and I've been waiting for someone to wake up, as you folks have done, to their importance. Specifically, I mean, to the importance of updating the trivium, the quadrivium, and the almost content-free term "liberal arts."

The other day, I posted a comment calling for the study of stewardship, which to me is how the whole green thing is going to be positioned when it finally becomes a popular, as distinct from fashionable, movement. There are good reasons why stewardship was left to God until just the other day, so to speak, but I'll save the history lecture for another day. Two words will suffice here: industrial revolution.

Those two words are important because it's the work of the industrial revolution that a new conception of the liberal arts must accommodate. The Old liberal arts rested on an ironclad distinction between art and techne, between the music of the spheres and the music of a pipe organ. Between using your head and using your hands. We need to put that behind us, but intelligently. In the past, revolts against the liberal arts have been undermined by salient anti-intellectualism.

Because I'm an Internet immigrant addressing Internet natives, I know that there's much that I will probably never understand about what's to come. But I suspect that it's a matter of details that I won't get — not big pictures. If there is to be any continuity between the old and the new liberal arts, it's in the understanding, which I'll call humanist, of our place in the world. I'd like to emphasize the first person plural. Students and young people generally are much more fond of the first person singular; so much so, that their second-favorite person is the second, imperative. "We" is a cooperative, not a collective person. My place in the world is not terribly important. Our place in it is the only game in town.

I'll be watching, with gratitude.

RJ, Thanks for your lovely note. Let me just add that I (I can't and most likely don't speak for Matt and Robin) definitely agree that it's really the industrial revolution and the changes that wrought, not just to work and society and technology but to culture, that we're trying to come to grips with. The role played by developments on the web or elsewhere in the past ten years is comparatively small.

Don't get me wrong -- I think the changes brought by the internet and electronic communications more broadly are real, BUT I think that one of the big things that is happening now, in no small part thanks to these breakthroughs, is that we're finally better able to understand what the industrial revolution's global effects really were.

One of my favorite jokes from Futurama goes like this:

FRY: Hey, you have no right to criticize the twentieth century! We gave the world the light bulb, the steam boat and the cotton gin.
LEELA: Those things are all from the nineteenth century.
FRY: Yeah, well, they probably just copied us.

This project has some folks excited at the university where I work, although your deadline is blazingly fast compared to anything that could come out of our conversations!
thought the themes of this conference would be relevant:

Posted by: Joanna on February 6, 2009 at 06:26 AM

Thanks for the link, Joanna -- super-interesting!

And yes... we are working at Internet Speed (TM) :-)

NO! I want the Elephant Poop Paper!!! Why are you kidding? That made me so happy!

Or try banana paper. That stuff is so smoooooooth.

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