The (in)humanities at Yale

You have probably heard of that other example of monstrous evil, Aliza Shvarts, the Yale student who created a work of “art” that consisted of repeatedly conceiving via artificial insemination and repeatedly giving herself an abortion. Though some have said it was a hoax, Shvarts insists that she really did this to yourself and to her unborn children.

Washington Post editorial page journalist Charles Lane goes into what she meant with her work of “art” and what this, in turn, tells us about what she had been learning at Yale. From The Art of Folly at Yale:

Among her “conceptual goals,” she wrote in the Yale Daily News, was “to assert that often, normative understandings of biological function are a mythology imposed on form. It is this mythology that creates the sexist, racist, ableist, nationalist and homophobic perspective, distinguishing what body parts are ‘meant’ to do from their physical capability.” Shvarts wanted to show that “it is a myth that ovaries and a uterus are ‘meant’ to birth a child.”

Lane segues into a review of a book by a Yale professor who protests what his colleagues have done to the humanities:

Last year, Anthony T. Kronman, the former dean of Yale’s law school, published “Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life.” This superb book traces the historical rise and fall of the humanities, which, Kronman writes, “are not merely in a crisis. They are in danger of becoming a laughingstock, both within the academy and outside it.”

In the past, Kronman argues, colleges and universities understood that undergraduates were hungry for answers to the Big Question: What is the meaning of life? And schools believed that not only religion but also higher education could help students find them. Humanities departments focused on great works of Western civilization, from Homer to Shakespeare. In short, Kronman writes, they gave their students a four-year seat in the unending “great conversation” of their civilization.

But between political correctness and the “publish or perish” ethic of the modern research university, the humanities have lost the desire and the capability to guide students’ spiritual quests. Instead, humanities professors stake their authority on an unrelenting critique not just of contemporary society but of meaning itself.

Once, humanities teachers cultivated perspective in their young charges; now, many of them instill grievance. The biological function of female reproductive organs can be portrayed as some kind of injustice. Or so Aliza Shvarts learned.

As I keep saying, where I am, at Patrick Henry College, we still cultivate the Humanities as this book says we should, as opposed to the inhumanities that dominate higher education elsewhere.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I don’t understand how this is even logistically possible. For one, IVF is VERY EXPENSIVE. Why didn’t she just get knocked up by some frat boy instead? (Not that it would make this horrible act any better.) How is it that her uterus even survived repeated implantations and abortions? This woman is very sick; God have mercy upon her!

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I don’t understand how this is even logistically possible. For one, IVF is VERY EXPENSIVE. Why didn’t she just get knocked up by some frat boy instead? (Not that it would make this horrible act any better.) How is it that her uterus even survived repeated implantations and abortions? This woman is very sick; God have mercy upon her!

  • http://www.simdan.com SimDan

    There’s an improperly closed link tag in the first link. It’s doing some funky things in my browser……

  • http://www.simdan.com SimDan

    There’s an improperly closed link tag in the first link. It’s doing some funky things in my browser……

  • Ted Gullixson

    Art is not conceived as a statement about Beauty, but making a social critique. Therefore any obsenity can be justified in the name of art. This woman has taken the absurdities of the classroom and tried to find meaning in them, only to become more absurd. Even in a Darwinian viewpoint, the idea that reproductive organs evolved to inflict injustice on women is absurd. The greatest tragedy concerns those human beings who were aborted for the sake of “art.” Such a callous disregard for human life can only be equalled in the concentration camps of Nazis and communists.

  • Ted Gullixson

    Art is not conceived as a statement about Beauty, but making a social critique. Therefore any obsenity can be justified in the name of art. This woman has taken the absurdities of the classroom and tried to find meaning in them, only to become more absurd. Even in a Darwinian viewpoint, the idea that reproductive organs evolved to inflict injustice on women is absurd. The greatest tragedy concerns those human beings who were aborted for the sake of “art.” Such a callous disregard for human life can only be equalled in the concentration camps of Nazis and communists.

  • CRB

    This kind of stuff points how the truth of Genesis 6:5!
    Sad!

  • CRB

    This kind of stuff points how the truth of Genesis 6:5!
    Sad!

  • forty-two

    I don’t think she did IVF. My understanding is that she got various men to donate sperm and then artificially inseminated herself, which is far different than IVF, where an embryo is created in the lab and then surgically implanted. I read a critique of her methods that suggested that, even if she did precisely what she said she did, it is unlikely she was pregnant even once, let alone every cycle. The odds of a woman conceiving with well-timed sex (right before ovulation) on any given cycle is 25%; the odds of conceiving with well-timed intravaginal insemination, with “raw” sperm (which seems to be the only AI method she could have done herself), is 10%. I’ve seen no mention of how she handled the sperm donations, and my understanding is that sperm have to be handled and stored carefully in order for them to not die. Given that she made no mention of getting a positive pregnancy test before attempting to abort the child, but instead began her herbal abortifacient regime the day after insemination (which may or may not have even been timed to coincide with ovulation), it is likely that most, if not all, of the “miscarriages” were actually regular periods. I certainly pray that was the case.

  • forty-two

    I don’t think she did IVF. My understanding is that she got various men to donate sperm and then artificially inseminated herself, which is far different than IVF, where an embryo is created in the lab and then surgically implanted. I read a critique of her methods that suggested that, even if she did precisely what she said she did, it is unlikely she was pregnant even once, let alone every cycle. The odds of a woman conceiving with well-timed sex (right before ovulation) on any given cycle is 25%; the odds of conceiving with well-timed intravaginal insemination, with “raw” sperm (which seems to be the only AI method she could have done herself), is 10%. I’ve seen no mention of how she handled the sperm donations, and my understanding is that sperm have to be handled and stored carefully in order for them to not die. Given that she made no mention of getting a positive pregnancy test before attempting to abort the child, but instead began her herbal abortifacient regime the day after insemination (which may or may not have even been timed to coincide with ovulation), it is likely that most, if not all, of the “miscarriages” were actually regular periods. I certainly pray that was the case.

  • RhetoricProf

    “between political correctness and the ‘publish or perish’ ethic of the modern research university, the humanities have lost the desire and the capability to guide students’ spiritual quests. Instead, humanities professors stake their authority on an unrelenting critique not just of contemporary society but of meaning itself.”

    Kronman is spot on. It seems to me that the critical impulse is inherently incapable of producing much of value. Rather obvious, I guess, since its primary postmodern manifestation is referred to as “deconstruction.”

    Because deconstructionism is so prevalent in the humanities today, because it is vogue (read “politically correct,”) impressionable students are attracted to it, because they assume they’ll be rewarded for “doing it.” Once they attempt to internalize that perspective, once they try to conduct self-examination by means of the methods acquired from their radical-critical theory-kool-aid drinking humanities profs, it is a quick descent to Avernus. The only thing left to do is enjoy Spring Break at South Padre Island; “eat, drink, and be merry,” for there is no meaning.

    The “traditionalist” or classically-oriented humanities prof, on the other hand, does his or her charges the service of giving them a firm foundation upon which to build. He earns his pay with honor . . . until he’s denied tenure for not publishing enough because his line of research wasn’t “sexy” enough. And so it goes . . .

  • RhetoricProf

    “between political correctness and the ‘publish or perish’ ethic of the modern research university, the humanities have lost the desire and the capability to guide students’ spiritual quests. Instead, humanities professors stake their authority on an unrelenting critique not just of contemporary society but of meaning itself.”

    Kronman is spot on. It seems to me that the critical impulse is inherently incapable of producing much of value. Rather obvious, I guess, since its primary postmodern manifestation is referred to as “deconstruction.”

    Because deconstructionism is so prevalent in the humanities today, because it is vogue (read “politically correct,”) impressionable students are attracted to it, because they assume they’ll be rewarded for “doing it.” Once they attempt to internalize that perspective, once they try to conduct self-examination by means of the methods acquired from their radical-critical theory-kool-aid drinking humanities profs, it is a quick descent to Avernus. The only thing left to do is enjoy Spring Break at South Padre Island; “eat, drink, and be merry,” for there is no meaning.

    The “traditionalist” or classically-oriented humanities prof, on the other hand, does his or her charges the service of giving them a firm foundation upon which to build. He earns his pay with honor . . . until he’s denied tenure for not publishing enough because his line of research wasn’t “sexy” enough. And so it goes . . .

  • Patrick Kyle

    Two things jump right out at me when I read this.

    We treat this 18 or 19 year old girl as though she has done some profound thing. Profoundly evil, maybe. She has neither the experience nor the wisdom to do anything other than regurgitate something she read or parrot something she was taught. Her act is ultimately nonsensical. Anyone who listens to her can tell in 5 seconds this whole thing lacks any sense. My dad would call her an “educated “d___b a_s.

    Secondly, whatever happened to the term “propaganda”? Art , books, film, or music given to the end of bringing about sharp political and or social change. That’s exactly what her supposed “art” was, and I think she needs to be called on it.

    On another note, I think we are entering in to another dark age. We have a rising generation of techno savages, people adept at manipulating technology, who for the most part reject the possibility of ultimate truth. Some of these kids border on illiteracy, but they can work a cell phone and play Grand Theft Auto IV on the computer.

    I surmise we will reap a bitter whirlwind.

  • Patrick Kyle

    Two things jump right out at me when I read this.

    We treat this 18 or 19 year old girl as though she has done some profound thing. Profoundly evil, maybe. She has neither the experience nor the wisdom to do anything other than regurgitate something she read or parrot something she was taught. Her act is ultimately nonsensical. Anyone who listens to her can tell in 5 seconds this whole thing lacks any sense. My dad would call her an “educated “d___b a_s.

    Secondly, whatever happened to the term “propaganda”? Art , books, film, or music given to the end of bringing about sharp political and or social change. That’s exactly what her supposed “art” was, and I think she needs to be called on it.

    On another note, I think we are entering in to another dark age. We have a rising generation of techno savages, people adept at manipulating technology, who for the most part reject the possibility of ultimate truth. Some of these kids border on illiteracy, but they can work a cell phone and play Grand Theft Auto IV on the computer.

    I surmise we will reap a bitter whirlwind.

  • R. Watts

    “She has neither the experience nor the wisdom to do anything other than regurgitate something she read or parrot something she was taught”

    I disagree– I believe this attitude is one reason why we have so many irresponsible teenagers. We simply do not expect much from them. Age is not a reason to wave responsibility for a young adult. And, on top of that, to be a student at Yale she would have had to be pretty smart. Yes, she was taught wrong, but no, that’s not an excuse.

  • R. Watts

    “She has neither the experience nor the wisdom to do anything other than regurgitate something she read or parrot something she was taught”

    I disagree– I believe this attitude is one reason why we have so many irresponsible teenagers. We simply do not expect much from them. Age is not a reason to wave responsibility for a young adult. And, on top of that, to be a student at Yale she would have had to be pretty smart. Yes, she was taught wrong, but no, that’s not an excuse.

  • http://jramos95.blogspot.com Jay Ramos

    As a Yale alumnus, I am saddened by the state of the humanities at one of our most important institutions of higher learning. I majored in history, and I started to see some of this ridiculousness during the last couple of years at school. It’s unfortunate that the need to “break new ground” in the humanities causes people to come up with such idiocy.

    I remember Dean Kronman, and I respected his scholarship, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with all of his personal positions. The current dean, Harold Koh, is a different story entirely. Administrators and professors like Koh are what is ruining Yale and other similar institutions.

    Whatever happened to the liberal arts? When did they degenerate into indoctrination?

  • http://jramos95.blogspot.com Jay Ramos

    As a Yale alumnus, I am saddened by the state of the humanities at one of our most important institutions of higher learning. I majored in history, and I started to see some of this ridiculousness during the last couple of years at school. It’s unfortunate that the need to “break new ground” in the humanities causes people to come up with such idiocy.

    I remember Dean Kronman, and I respected his scholarship, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with all of his personal positions. The current dean, Harold Koh, is a different story entirely. Administrators and professors like Koh are what is ruining Yale and other similar institutions.

    Whatever happened to the liberal arts? When did they degenerate into indoctrination?

  • Rhetoric Prof

    “Whatever happened to the liberal arts? When did they degenerate into indoctrination?”

    Progressivism must always resort to indoctrination because, in the final analysis, its premises are untenable, flying, as they do, in the face of traditional wisdom, human nature, and practicality. Passing lies for truth must be accomplished by means of indoctrination, demonization of dissenters, threats of various kinds, and political pressure.

    (See Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and Veith’s Modern Fascism.)

  • Rhetoric Prof

    “Whatever happened to the liberal arts? When did they degenerate into indoctrination?”

    Progressivism must always resort to indoctrination because, in the final analysis, its premises are untenable, flying, as they do, in the face of traditional wisdom, human nature, and practicality. Passing lies for truth must be accomplished by means of indoctrination, demonization of dissenters, threats of various kinds, and political pressure.

    (See Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and Veith’s Modern Fascism.)

  • FullTime

    OK, I am not a doctor, but I am a woman and I am a mother. If she “artificially inseminated herself” and then immediately began herbal abortifact treatments until she “miscarried” then she was NOT pregnant. What she had were periods, not miscarriages.

    Aside from that, what she had was not “art” either.

    It also does NOT “call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body.”

    It does call into question her credentials for graduation, if you ask me. As an art student she should be studying old masters for more reason than “what can turn them on their head and be the most shocking.”

    I would also review her grades (and maybe professor) in Biology 101 (if she took it) if she thought her “art” was what she said it was.

    Personally…I don’t know art, but I know what I like…this is neither.

  • FullTime

    OK, I am not a doctor, but I am a woman and I am a mother. If she “artificially inseminated herself” and then immediately began herbal abortifact treatments until she “miscarried” then she was NOT pregnant. What she had were periods, not miscarriages.

    Aside from that, what she had was not “art” either.

    It also does NOT “call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body.”

    It does call into question her credentials for graduation, if you ask me. As an art student she should be studying old masters for more reason than “what can turn them on their head and be the most shocking.”

    I would also review her grades (and maybe professor) in Biology 101 (if she took it) if she thought her “art” was what she said it was.

    Personally…I don’t know art, but I know what I like…this is neither.


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