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What is academia for?

The popular acclaim for Alan Sokal's "Intellectual Impostures" suggests a deep-seated suspicion about the value of much theoretical work in the humanities. But if the heroic age of scholarship is past, what are the humanities for? To teach us how to lead better lives?

The oldest and most widespread view of academics is that they are really a bit odd. They often have large foreheads, old-fashioned footwear and high-pitched laughs. Something about their intelligence seems to interfere with their ability to deal with aspects of ordinary existence. Mastery of the details of agrarian reform under Tiberius or of Greek imagery in Keats’s letters leaves them ill-equipped to apply sun cream or order a pizza. So entrenched is this portrait of the scholar that the adjective “academic” has acquired a dual connotation, both “from a university” and “redundant, pedantic, overcomplicated.”

However much fun it can…

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