Note to Reader: Louis Hammer was a poet, philosopher and artist who headed the Philosophy department at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute during my brief post-graduate tenure there in the fall of 1986. I was a student in Hammer’s philosophy seminar on Phenomenology. I recently discovered that he died on February 14, 2006. While I was at RPI, another student of Hammer’s and I began gathering material to produce a philosophical/surrealist publication to be called The Hammer Smiles, in honor of our instructor. The publication never came to fruition, but stand-out piece to have been included was Hammer’s own reflective piece, titled “Crisis in the Humanities,” which I am including here, along with a two or three poems from Hammer’s collection, The Book of Games. I hope to pen an appreciation piece at some time in the near future.
In the past it was easy to suppose that the reflection which occurs in the humanities gives insight into human nature and opens the world for lucidity, or that in the humanities we consider acts of expression that describe the phenomena of feeling and make evident a state of being.
What anyone might easily have overlooked is that scholarship in the humanities is not a simple uncovering of thought and expression or even a complex reconstruction of a body of reflection and feeling. It is itself an appropriation process that transforms whatever it touches, that leaves its mark on the material which it exhibits. How we think and how we feel are affected by scholarship because scholarship not only studies thinking and feeling but is itself composed of thinking and feeling. Something important in what we are studying cannot be brought into our fields of study as an object for investigation because it is itself part of the act of investigation. This is a situation reminiscent of the one presented in Heisenberg’s celebrated Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics, where the act of investigation is shown to condition the possibility of knowledge.