Thursday, January 10, 2008

Where Have All the Public Intellectuals Gone?

Russell Jacoby asks in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what happened to the public intellectuals? The answer: the intellectuals became postmodernists whose ideas were inaccessible to anyone, and whose ideas are insignificant. Both of these observations are, for the most part, dead on. But the disappearance of the public intellectual creates a problem for those of us who are not postmodernists, and who write and speak in ways that the average human being can understand, which is that the public has all but forgotten about the intellectual. Sure, the French are still big on their intellectuals -- which is why Alain Badiou is a best seller there -- but that's just the French being French. Here in the U.S., where anti-intellectualism is all too often rampant, and our intellectuals are so full of idiotic ideas that the anti-intellectualism of the U.S. hasn't really hurt us in the least, a lull can have dire consequences.

On the other hand, the blog has the potential to create new public intellectuals. People will be able to seek out such intellectuals, and perhaps intellectualism will be able to find a new space in which to live. On the other hand, we are still in a bit of a transitionary period, where publication of books and articles is vital. In academic circles, this blog means nothing and could not be provided as any sort of evidence for establishing academic credentials. I don't think that's entirely wrong, since there needs to be some sort of gate-keeping that establishes credibility. Perhaps one day in the future, blogs will be able to be rated by experts and given some sort of credibility. Alas, academics are notoriously behind when it comes to technology.
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