Are we lost in the academic labyrinth?

We do not need to reduce the full range of our human experience to the “humanities.” While our academic tools are always available for us to use, there are also entire universes beyond critical analysis, beyond concepts, beyond words.

Every single academic interchange of any type always occurs within a larger context that consists of our full humanity, against the backdrop of our full experience as conscious living beings. Allowing ourselves to appreciate this inherent multidimensionality, and acknowledging it in our conversations with each other, will, I believe, revolutionize and revitalize our experience as researchers, as pedagogues, and as colleagues.

Of course, humanistic inquiry does often get translated into public scholarship, exerts an impact on policy, makes contributions to cultural change, and has other tangible outcomes in the “real world.” This work is not always done by humanists ourselves, but surely we are collectively due some credit for facilitating these developments. Our time spent in the undergraduate classroom is also of immense importance, as we introduce future generations to our scholarly tools, setting them up to bring these ideas out into the world and apply them in places we’ve never even thought to venture.

But, let’s not congratulate ourselves too heartily. We all know that, on the whole, our profession all too often ignores — or worse, belittles — real-world applications of our scholarship. We call them “applied” or “alternative.” For too many of us, even teaching is seen as a distraction from “our work.”

How would things change if we actually embraced a larger perspective? What if when I give a conference paper — even while I was totally engrossed in my own little corner of the scholarly labyrinth, and expressing myself in the most eloquent terms possible — what if I was simultaneously also able to recognize how I was engaged in an exchange of qi, or prana, energy with my audience? (I don’t mean what if I was analyzing this encouner in terms of “embodiment theory,” “phenomenology,” or “the bodily turn.” I mean, what if I was actually tuning into the raw sensations of aliveness that are buzzing through my body, even while I’m engrossed in my talk?)

Or, what if I could give my classroom lecture all the analytical thought it deserves, but also have it unfold in the moment as a heartfelt dance of empathy and emotional exchange with my students? What if experienced writing as a spiritual experience of sorts, part of my development as a human being longing to understand myself, my place in the universe, and the meaningfulness of my existence? What if I could see that, as a flesh-and-blood living creature, my participation in any and all scholarly activities always transcends the labyrinth in an infinite number of ways that are impossible to quantify?

To someone who is lost in labyrinth, anything coming from beyond it is simply beyond the pale — simply too naïve, unprofessional, or embarrassing to even speak out loud. Be that as it may, I nevertheless find myself here in this liminal place, immerse myself in “the work” with curiosity and glee, but still looking up from between the shrubs and engaging in this life as a full human being.