The study of Humanities is an exploration of the power dynamics involved with voice.
It’s no secret that society turns the volume of a few voices extremely loud, and turns the volume of many more so quiet they are almost inaudible. At some point, I developed the idea that society can conquer all bad things if everyone’s voice is heard at an equal volume. Coming to the Humanities course, I suddenly felt as though this idea of mine was naive. Reading and discussing some very negative topics, and at times hearing very negative takes on those topics, made me question the possibility of everyone’s voice being on the same volume. However, through discussing the darkness of the topics in the Humanities course, I also saw the possibility of moving forward. This is because with each artifact in Humanities, one must think Okay, Why?
One must look past the surface of human experience and attempt to understand why that experience came to be. This hit me the most when reading studying the Rwandan Genocide through the lens of Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil.” For the first time, I questioned the voice in “bad guy” narratives. I did not just accept the premise of a “bad guy,” but questioned how masses of average people could suddenly become the “bad guys.” The opening plenary lecture of Unit 3 discussed the idea of being an audience to violence through media dissemination of shocking photos. This made me realize that we often just accept the voice of the media as truth, and assume that the picture this voice paints tells the whole story. What do we miss when we don’t investigate?
I explored this idea of not automatically accepting the words from authoritative voices as we looked into the American Civil Rights Movement. Throughout my education, the non-violent aspect of the Civil Rights Movement has been constantly highlighted and praised. Never had I considered another viewpoint until reading Robert Williams’ Negroes with Guns. He explained that Black people using violence in self-defense could decrease the amount of violence from racial terror, since white perpetrators would stop believing they could attack African American communities whenever they wanted to. I had never considered that point of view about violence in the Civil Rights Movement. Furthermore, Professor Wills demonstrated in one lecture that Robert Williams was not the first person with this perspective – Frederick Douglas and Harriett Tubman had similar doctrines. Anytime I learned about Black resistance in history, violence was shoved under the rug. This is where the Humanities begins the journey of Why.
I connected this disparity in my education to Angela Davis’ “Recognizing Racism in the Era of Neoliberalism.” Davis explained that racism still very much exists in society, yet people choose to believe otherwise because the discrimination is less explicit than it was in the past. This, I realized, is why I only learned about nonviolent Black resistance. People today are willing to talk about important Black social movements in the past, but only the parts that do not reveal the deep fury and anger fueled by so much societal discrimination. The grand narrative of the United States undermines the voices of entire races of people who have suffered extensively in the nation’s history. This undermining of marginalized voices continues today all over the world.
Marginalized voices of the past are not automatically turned up to higher volume in the present. For instance, in the book Gulag Voices, Anne Applebaum explains that “the Gulag is not a fashionable topic in contemporary Russia,” so the majority of stories from people in these camps still are not told. Her purpose in writing the book is to get these voices into the human experience narrative, because decades upon decades after the Gulags existed, the people who suffered in them are still written over by other stories. This issue of marginalized voices being turned quiet in the present appears in the world of art as well. With Professor Munger’s unit, we based much of our conception of abstract art off of Kandel’s Reductionism in Art and Brain Science. However, Kandel only references notable male abstract artists in the book. In the 1950s when abstract art took off, female artists were overlooked; Kandel published his book in 2016, and the female artists were still overlooked. The archive of human experience has many gaps in it, and the Humanities seeks to find the voices of those gaps and question why they were left out.
The Humanities involves exploring how the imbalance in the power dynamics of voice can necesitate asserting one’s voice in a way other than speaking. The movie The Baader-Meinhof Komplex, demonstrates the ways in which post-WWII German revolutionaries asserted their voices against the government. They used often-violent public demonstrations to express the importance of their cause, for the German government discredited their speech. Additionally, as we talked about in Professor Bory’s unit, many marginalized groups turn to performance. Performance can sometimes speak louder than words, and their words were not being heard. However, voices not in the form of spoken or written speech are less prevalent in the archive of human experience. In her essay “Performance Remains” Rebecca Schneider discusses the ways in which performance gets diluted or distorted when archived. The Humanities must search for lacking areas in the narrative of human experience where speechless voices went unrecorded.
Studying the Humanities facilitates the challenging of paradigms that refuse to acknowledge the remaining vocal inequalities in the world. In his definition primer, Dr. Robb notes that the Humanities would likely require a prescriptive definition, an aspirational statement of how the term should be used. The Humanities should be used to describe the quest to find which voices are not heard in the narrative of human experience, and the subsequent search for which societal imbalances turn those voices to low volume.
Applebaum, Anne, ed. Gulag Voices : An Anthology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Accessed February 25, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central. Created from davidson on 2020-02-25 13:11:27.
Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem : A Report on the Banality of Evil. Rev. and Enl. ed. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin Books, 1994.
Boersema, David. “Paradigms and Research Programs.” Philosophy of Science. Pearson Education, Inc., 2009.
Davis, Angela. “Recognizing Racism in the Era of Neoliberalism.” Vice Chancellor’s Oration on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia. 2018.
Kandel, Eric R. Reductionism in Art and Brain Science : Bridging the Two Cultures. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. https://doi.org/10.7312/kand17962.
Schneider, Rebecca. Performance Remains, Performance Research, 6:2, 2001.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex (dir. Bernd Eichinger, 2008; 144 mins).
Williams, Robert F. (Robert Franklin), 1925-1996. Negroes With Guns. New York :Marzani & Munsell, 1962.