When I tell people I am a researcher in contemporary literature, the response often conveys a certain bemused confusion. What do professionals in the humanities actually do? And more importantly, why?
This series of articles, written for Litro Magazine, showcases some of the most cutting-edge topics in current humanities research, and uses them as tools of critique for exploring the present. The humanities inspire and shape our day-to-day lives, and deal with some of the most central questions facing us today: What does it mean to be human? How can we understand our relation to the environment, to our history, to questions of identity or language, ethics or religion, economies?
There is a twist to this, though. I believe that the arts and literature – or in other words, the ‘aesthetic sphere’ has a privileged position in this. As Marc Redfield recently put it, aesthetics “discovers the essence of humanity in our ability to play freely”. In consequence, this is also a question about the nature of arts and literature in our society, and goes to the heart of what Litro is about.