The Pale of Words: Reflections on the Humanities and Performance

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In this book, James Anderson Winn enters the debate about the perilous state of humanities education today. Winn, founding director of a leading humanities institute, contends that the disciplines we call the humanities have identified themselves excessively with the written word. He exposes the hostility and fear with which writers and philosophers throughout Western history have regarded forms of expression not couched in words, despite the fact that much of what humanists study originates in performance. ...
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Overview

In this book, James Anderson Winn enters the debate about the perilous state of humanities education today. Winn, founding director of a leading humanities institute, contends that the disciplines we call the humanities have identified themselves excessively with the written word. He exposes the hostility and fear with which writers and philosophers throughout Western history have regarded forms of expression not couched in words, despite the fact that much of what humanists study originates in performance. Winn's readings of such figures as Plato, Augustine, Spenser, Milton, Dryden, Rousseau, and Kant underscore the long-standing Western prejudice against music and the similarly stubborn prejudices against theatrical display and the visual arts. The author then asks how the turn toward theory might help us reconsider the troubled relations between the humanities and performance; he discovers a bias toward the linguistic model deeply embedded even in the works of theorists who claim to be undermining the authority of language. Finding hope for a more inclusive view of performance in the thought of Roland Barthes and others, Winn concludes with pragmatic advice for the modern university and a proposal for humanities scholars and performers to form a new alliance.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Winn (English, Boston Univ.) closely analyzes the humanities, emphasizing their roots in performance traditions and their subsequent development. He concludes that music, visual arts, and theatrical display have been, over time, constrained by the written word and that, as a result, their essential nonverbal power has been undermined. Through musical examples and descriptions, literary quotations, philosophical discussion, and historical details, Winn offers persuasive evidence in support of his ideas. He draws examples from a variety of sources--from the structure of ancient Greek tragedy to the perceptions of jazz musicians to the writings of Roland Barthes, to name just a few. He uses his research brilliantly, coaxing out thought-provoking conclusions. Winn's final proposal, for collaboration between scholars in the humanities and performers, could be heeded with positive results, particularly given the state of the arts in contemporary society. For scholarly collections.--Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300074123
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
I The Sirens' Song 1
II "Vain Shows" 37
III The Theorist as Performer 72
IV Performance and Promises 102
Notes 131
Index 139
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2008

    Poetry and War Through the Ages

    War brings out the best in us¿heroism, nobility, and sacrifice¿and the worst in us¿hatred, savagery, and vengefulness. From ancient times to the present, poets have explored the experience of war. War is a subject of most of the great western epics¿the Iliad, Aeneid, Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, Paradise Lost, etc. War is the subject for modern day popular poet such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. To better understand the relationship between war and poetry, I read The Poetry of War, by James Winn. Though a professor of English at Boston University, Winn writes in a clear compelling a clear and avoids academic jargon. What is like to face death or to kill another man? Perhaps only a poet can convey a sense of the emotions of men at war. Winn shows how poets from Homer to Randall Jarrell have praised heroes while raising questions about the basic nature of heroism, celebrated victors but wondered about the ultimate bitter fruits of victory, and found the passion and energy of war both enthralling and repulsive. While awaiting the poet who can explain what we are doing in Iraq, I recommend that you read The Poetry of War.

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