In a recent column, Stanley Fish concludes,
To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said – even when it takes the form of Kronman’s inspiring cadences – diminishes the object of its supposed praise.That's all fine, but along the way Fish remarks, "You can’t argue that a state’s economy will benefit by a new reading of 'Hamlet.'" While Hamlet might not do the trick, many cities, from Spain to southwest Virginia, are investing in the humanities as a way to attract tourists and do exactly what Fish claims they can't: boost the local economy. I don't know how often this succeeds, but certainly the conventional wisdom is that the Guggenheim in Bilbao reinvigorated a rusting industrial city, as visitors flock to see both the architecture and the contents of the museum. It's also made the city a worthwhile place for a movie shoot, if only to get an image of Gehry's titanium curves on screen. Closer to home, the temporary relocation of MOMA's collection to Queens, particularly the Matisse-Picasso exhibit, brought attention to Long Island City. Of course, acknowledging that people still do enjoy the humanities, and will pay good money for them, would run counter to Fish's dismissive claim that cultural capital is now worthless.