Hall Center For The Humanities


Louis Menand
Louis Menand
Cultural critic & author

"A Man is Shot: The Cold War Meaning of a Cinematic Technique"
Humanities Lecture Series

Thu., Nov. 17, 2011, 7:30pm - 9:30pm
Co-sponsored by Kansas Public Radio.
Location: Auditorium, Spencer Museum of Art

Louis Menand straddles the line between successful academic and popular cultural critic. Perhaps best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Metaphysical Club (2001), a history of late 19th and early 20th century American thought, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University has also written extensively about other cultural milestones in the formation of an American intellectual identity. His most recent publication is The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (2010), and his current research project is a cultural history of the Cold War.

Often touted as "the foremost scholar of American studies," Menand has a bachelor's degree from Pomona University and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. His reflections on the state of American culture, and the university as a frequent arbiter of culture, demonstrate wit, accessibility, and insider knowledge of American intellectual trends. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker.

Menand's status as a public intellectual was launched with the publication of The Metaphysical Club, which follows the lives and ideas of burgeoning pragmatists Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James, and Charles Sanders Peirce. Although ostensibly exploring the lives of these thinkers, the book is more interested in tracing the growth of their ideas, rather than the more mundane details of their births, deaths, and all that comes between. Their intellectual and cultural influence on American thought came in the guise of pragmatism, the philosophical tradition embracing the notion that the truth of a belief is a function of its practical value. This marriage of the lofty and the practical, Menand argues, is key to understanding the cultural values America came to develop over the course of the past century. Critics hailed the book as "an absorbing narrative about personalities and social history...about the evolution of the American mind."

Menand's interest in how the values of a society are structured by history also drives his arguments in The Marketplace of Ideas. The book casts a critical eye on the university system, focusing particularly on the liberal arts curriculum, humanities and interdisciplinarity, and the development of the professoriate.  As in The Metaphysical Club, Menand elucidates the historical development of the values of the university, those of academic freedom, professionalization, and the distinction between practical and theoretical knowledge.  Menand argues that the institutional structure and educational philosophy of higher education have remained the same for one hundred years, while faculties and student bodies have radically changed and technology has drastically transformed the way people produce and disseminate knowledge.

Today, Menand's research continues to probe trends in American thought, this time offering a cultural analysis of the Cold War. In his Humanities Lecture Series presentation "A Man is Shot: The Cold War Meaning of a Cinematic Technique," Menand will illustrate the connection between philosophy, 20th century American literature, film, music, French history, and the Cold War, using his expertise and humor to create a cohesive picture of a significant historical epoch in American cultural development. The Hall Center will also host a more informal question and answer session, "Reform and Resistance in the American University: A Conversation with Louis Menand."  Both events are free and open to the public.

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