Five Minutes for the Humanities
A view from Tom Rene, Commissioning Editor for Literature and Theatre & Performance at Palgrave Macmillan
When I was 15 my English teacher told me: “You write like an embittered old man”.
This harrowing news testified to the transformative power of the written word. I was studying Philip Larkin, and it hadn’t taken long for his bleak verse to turn my hair grey.
I took a step back. I was going to have to watch a lot of MGM musicals to get right again.
What we read becomes part of us, the same way our bodies absorb food – if “you are what you eat”, you are also what you read.
Words shape life. Reading widely in the Humanities, by increasing our capacity to articulate and therefore to understand, also increases our capacity for certain kinds of experience.
For example, the arrival of autumn no longer seems like a massive drag, but a wonderful continuation of summer, since I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Nature’.
Reading Jane Austen has sharpened my attentiveness to social mores (nineteenth-century and beyond), and also helped me become the incredibly witty person I am today.
Best of all, Spinoza’s description of the universe has brightened my everyday life by showing that everything DOES happen for a reason.
The study of Humanities isn’t just a hobby (even though it’s great fun) – it is absolutely fundamental to the way we view reality and therefore to how we act. What could be more important?