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Reselling Books

"We have, in some way, to move the humanities from the
old to the new operating system." --Richard Lanham

Two semesters may be too brief a period for engaging students with print, let alone the larger assumptions of intellectual life. Some do keep their Core texts and study other texts and ideas afterward, but for too many of them Core ends with the buy-back table in the Commons building. Piles of Nietzsche, Plato, Soskei, and Woolf stack up, many of them already bearing the yellow "used" tags of prior resellings. The students who owned them have rushed off to specialized majors and remain a world away from what the common syllabus for Core calls "hard thinking about hard books".

I shudder when I see those piles of books; it disturbs me enough to avoid the Commons building during buy-back. Those tattered piles call to mind other discarded books, from the the library of Alexandria in the 4th Century to the burnings of "decadent" books in prewar Germany.

The reasons are complex for our students' wholesale disposal of their books. Money can be made from the books, though not much. A used copy of Chuang Tzu doesn't fetch what a calculus book can. Still, I've long believed that one weakness in Core, a lack of attention to networked technology, contributes to our students' sense of irrelevance. Core, like many other "great books" programs, ignores the very technologies that drive our society today and, frankly, help steer students away from the quiet spaces of printed text and the accumulation of a personal library.

Recently, Core teachers have taken to encouraging (even forcing, at times) students to attend lectures, arts events, workshops on music, and screenings of films. This type of assignment only begins to address students' lack of connection to academic life, and, frankly, getting cultured under duress is not a very good idea. Meanwhile, a hypertextual reading lab, about Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, provides another promising direction. But even that lab, the first course-wide application of technology, is only a first step in a much larger task.

Why Conferences? Abnormal Discourse