Harper’s Notes (1/15)

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: cinema, censorship, culture, and more.

The editors

January 15, 2024

The Odyssey across American society: If you sat down on the bus next to your fellow Americans, what would you have to talk about? That’s the question that animates the first essay of The Harper Review’s winter 2024 issue. With funding slashed to university humanities departments across the United States, the Review’s contributing editor Francesco P. Rahe wonders if Americans are at risk of losing their common culture. As talking heads ponder the value of the humanities and policymakers tout scientific or politically conservative ways to restore a humanities education, Rahe worries that we have collectively missed the true purpose of the Great Books—to give us a sense of what the Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun called “group-feeling.”

Yeats and Eisenhower: The Harper Review’s winter debate kicks off with two letters affirming the claim that “we should never forget the past.” Assistant editor of the Review Elizabeth Eck turns to the poetry of W. B. Yeats, proffering a fiery polemic in favor of the artistic accomplishment of the past and against the literary chaff enjoyed on TikTok. In contrast, read the sobering yet tonic letter by Maxwell Feigelson, who reflects on the tradition of Holocaust cinema beginning with General Dwight Eisenhower’s post-WWII media campaign to the American public. Memory is a heavy responsibility, Feigelson writes, and that responsibility obliges us to move beyond the excitement of cinematic experience.

Freedom for me but not for thee: Since its publication in 1967, the Kalven Report has served as the University of Chicago’s lodestar for issues surrounding academic freedom, institutional neutrality, and freedom of speech. In recent years, these values and protections have come under fire from various members of government, the public, student groups, and, in some cases, universities themselves. After witnessing the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania testify on allegations of antisemitism and censorship on campus, we must ask: Are universities failing to uphold their founding principles? Or have they always failed to do so due to their financial relationships with private donors and enterprises? Join University of Chicago professors Cathy Cohen, Tom Ginsburg, and Christopher Wild on Tuesday, January 16, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. as they discuss the Kalven Report’s legacy at our institution and across academia.

Dear diary: From the parlors of the Victorian era to the social media platform TikTok, women have always used public spaces to share their most intimate thoughts. Unique to today, however, is that it is now possible to share one’s diaries with online audiences of millions. A recent essay in The Economist questions the integrity of diaries broadcast at such a large scale and asks whether they might constitute oversharing. On one hand, sharing diaries publicly can raise awareness of issues that women face, help people relate to one another, or honor one’s younger and more vulnerable self. But on the other hand, the practice may be a form of commodifying our private thoughts and ultimately ourselves. If we hope to resolve such contradictions, the essay argues that we must consider why we began writing a diary in the first place and who we wish will eventually become our audience.