Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Cliché corner

Thanks to Hugh for sharing Stephen Greenblatt’s up-beat heads-up about the upcoming, up-and-coming Arts-at-Harvard Taskforce. These “programs” and “initiatives” promise to “shape an even brighter future” for the arts - just when you thought the future couldn’t get any brighter-shaped. “Cross-School collaborations” are to encourage “broader engagement”, among those “community members” who “regularly engage the arts with enthusiasm and enormous talent”.


What does “engage” mean here? The arts can engage you, and you can engage in art, but can you “engage the arts”, except in battle? Don’t you need to interrogate them first? Either way, “enthusiasm and enormous talent” will win through, and that brighter future – sorry, even brighter future – will get shaped. Each future manages to be brighter than the last, even though the last was pretty damn bright.


“Engaged” is no longer confined to matrimony and toilet doors. It has become a general, and fairly meaningless, term of praise. In this New York Times piece on Auburn University, philosopher Kelly Jolley is described as “cheerful and engaged”. Where’s his fiancée, then?  


Newsflash – I should stop fussing and get with the programme. I think it’s all very silly, but – newsflash – some engaged community members with enormous talent think otherwise. Well – newsflash – “newsflash” is no longer new, or even flashy. And if the future's as bright as they say it's going to be, we won't be able to see it.

Posted on 09/23/2008 6:02 AM by Mary Jackson
23 Sep 2008
N-Gauge Theory
En garde! Prepare to be engorged with "Engage!"  I trust that you will find the following to be more than, or more than enough, engaging, although not much more.

23 Sep 2008
Send an emailHugh Fitzgerald
It is surprising not to find, amidst all the lush hothouse campus banality of the greenblattian email, at least one "subversively interrogates"  or a  "negotiating the boundaries between" or possibly even an "interdisciplinary" or two. Apparently Homi Bhabha, now a special adviser to President Faust, wasn’t in on the final edit.The letter smacks more, in its phrasing, of an unintentionally dull mckinsey report, rather than being deliberately dull in the manner of those kinsey reports that were forced to tiptoe past the censorious passions of easily-agitated yore.
The verb "to engage" recalls a passage in Pale Fire where the French adjectival form, engagé --  a term of phrase applired admiringly to the writer who in his deux-magots delirium chose to enter the political fray and Take A Stand not only outside, but inside his books --  appears, though in dismissive phonetic form:
"some phony modern poem that was said / In English Lit to be a document / 'Engazhay and compelling.'"