Via Nancy Baym:
Arendt, Wurgaft suggests, may remain important today less for her writing on totalitarianism than for her warnings about the rise of the “technocrats” – a new breed of “intellectuals” who pictured political life as involving the accomplishment of pre-established tasks, rather than as an ongoing argument involving perennial questions about what we value, and why.
The technocrats, undoubtedly, are still with us. At one point in his article, Wurgaft cites a widely praised review of Daniel Drezner’s recent book, The Ideas Industry, by the intellectual historian David Sessions. Drezner’s book, says Sessions, shows how today’s would-be public intellectuals are being drowned out by the rise of “thought leaders.” Thought leaders are glorified technicians and TED Talk evangelists, like Sheryl Sandberg, Thomas Friedman, and Parag Khanna, who nevertheless are treated by large audiences as emissaries from the world of ideas. Such figures would seem to fulfill Arendt’s prophecy about the danger of a culture coming to revere elite technocratic authority.
Sessions’s article, though, is not just about the superficiality and corruption of thought leaders – a seductively soft target for his New Republic readership. Sessions also hazards a positive description of what makes someone a real or authentic intellectual, and it is in these passages that his article is truly, if unwittingly, revealing. Whereas the thought leaders are guilty of flattering the whims of the superrich, Sessions claims, a group he approvingly calls the “new intellectuals on the left” have demonstrated their independence by being “willing to expose the prattle of thought leaders, to attack the rhetorical smoke screens of the liberal center, and to defend working-class voters.” Later, crediting a cluster of leftist-associated magazines (including this one) with the revival of American intellectual life, Sessions leaves little doubt as to what he considers qualifies someone to be a genuine public intellectual. To be a genuine public intellectual is to agitate for the working class, and against the “liberal center” or the superrich (also, apparently, to reflexively conflate those two terms). To be a genuine public intellectual is to have the “courage,” as he calls it, to speak truth to power.
What does it mean, then, to be an “intellectual on the left”? Although I confess the phrase strikes me as somewhat mysterious, it is not impossible to imagine a definition: an intellectual on the left, having arrived at certainty about the correct direction for society, helps formulate and disseminate arguments for moving society in that direction. But if we accept this definition as meaningful, we are compelled to agree with Strauss and Arendt that the figure of the public intellectual represents a debasement of thinking, rather than a model for it. There are plenty of reasons to commit as citizens to political parties or movements – and there may even be reasons to consider that commitment as partly the product of philosophical reasoning. But someone who speaks as a representative of a fixed ideology or group has subjugated the philosopher within themselves to the partisan.
My colleagues Clive Barnett and Jon Cinnamon have a great CFP out, take a look:
Next week, in advance of the RGS-IBG annual conference, the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) will join the other museums in South Kensington on Exhibition Rd. MoCC is the brainchild of artist-activist-researcher Paula Crutchlow and promises to build on the provocative and inspiring work undertaken as part of the project over the last three years. I strongly encourage anyone in London next week to pop into the Royal Geographical Society to take a look.
I’m very privileged to be on Paula’s PhD committee. This is fantastic work – even if you cannot make it to Exhibition Rd, please do look at the MoCC website.
MoCC was co-founded by artist-researcher Paula Crutchlow from Blind Ditch and Geographer Ian Cook from followthethings.com and University of Exeter. The project is being developed in partnership with Furtherfieldand a growing number of artists, academics, technologists and members of the public.
Our early prototypes and events have been kindly supported by All Change Arts, Islington Turkish, Kurdish and Cypriot Women’s Group, Islington Council, Exeter City Council, Art Week Exeter, Exeter Scrapstore, Exeter Phoenix, Exeter CVS, St Sidwells Community Centre, Exeter Library, Art Week Exeter. With many thanks to the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) for their support with this 2017 exhibition. MoCC is funded by Arts Council England, University of Exeter and the Economic and Social Science Research Council.
Via Gary Hall. All of the books are available for free download. Follow links below.
Nice post by Jack Gieseking on why it’s worth setting up a website as an academic. I’d broadly echo many of the points here, albeit from a different standpoint – I’m less prolific and I guess I’m more in curatorial mode on this website at the moment… (I am actually writing again though, so that’s nice)
Via Culture Digitally.
This looks like an interesting read by Brooke Erin Duffy. Although I know what Duffy calls here “aspirational work” is popular, I have been a bit surprised by how many of our students at Exeter actively do this kind of work – mostly fashion vlogging. I have had at least one dissertation on the topic for each of the last three years and many of the videos produced for my final year option module draw on these themes. Those I’ve spoken to are acutely aware of the nuances of the negotiations of different norms and values – ‘authenticity’ and getting paid don’t always sit well together it seems.
I hope I have the chance to check out this book so I can actually learn more about what I can only vaguely sketch (perhaps wrongly) at the moment, I hope some of those who read this will too…