[ Mon. Apr. 14. 2014 ]

Why a different kind of scholar—and idea—hits big today

...In describing the shift of the limelight away from the humanities, many people invoke the decline of theory—specifically the abstruse poststructuralist thought espoused by Jacques Derrida and his acolytes—which once seemed set to take over not just the humanities but all of academe. "There is a particular kind of theory-head who thinks that they can explain everything to everyone," says Stephen Burt, a professor of English at Harvard University. "That’s gone. The people who think they can explain everything are in the sciences—or in one case linguistics, Steven Pinker. But I don’t think there’s an explanation for everything, so I don’t miss it." Burt, the rare English professor who has given a TED talk (on poetry and mortality, among other things), says his experience was "unequivocally positive."

People such as John Brockman, literary agent to star scientists and editor of, argue that wooly humanists have simply given way to harder-headed thinkers who address intellectual topics, including the humanities, through a scientific lens. ...