George Scialabba och akademiker vs intellektuella

Crooked Timber skrivs det just nu flitigt om George Scialabba och hans senaste bok What Are Intellectuals Good For?. Det är en intressant bok – och en intressant skribent. Han tillhör den ovanliga, snart utdöda, gruppen av intellektuella utan anknyting till ett universitet eller tankesmedja. Scialabba arbetar i och för sig på Harvard – men som vaktmästare/lokalansvarig för en byggnad.

Russell Jacoby skriver om Scialabba och förutsättningarna att försörja sig som fristående intellektuell. (Titeln på hans text, ”No Live Readings”, är hämtad från ett anslag som kritikern Edmund Wilson en gång satte upp på 50- eller 60-talet. Wilson fastslog en lång lista av kringaktiviteter som han inte kunde delta i – han var en författare och hans plats var vid skrivbordet.)

Like Wilson, he is a non-academic intellectual. That road or that life has become tougher, if not impossible. […] How do intellectuals earn enough money to write and think?

The possibilities are worse than ever. Yes, a few souls manage to hustle and do quite nicely, for instance, Christopher Hitchens. Yes, a few magazines like the “New Yorker” pay a living wage, but for most to survive, if not flourish, requires a working (and willing) spouse, family money or an academic position (or its equivalent such as a slot in a think tank or policy outfit). Yes, Scialabba has a chair at Harvard, but his sits behind a desk on the ground floor of the building which he superintends. Only the most resolute can juggle for years a day job and night time of writing. For almost everyone else, the choice is to join an institution or die on the vine.

[…] What are the costs of the institutionalization of intelligence?

Some fifty years ago, [Josef] Weber formulated the “law” of the “dwindling force of cognition in bourgeois society.” […] Society progresses in information and facts, but regresses in understanding.

[Scialabba] calls for “public political intellectuals of a new sort,” but he is not exactly convincing on this score. […] Perhaps it is too soon to identify a new generation, and perhaps it will not take shape as did previous generations. Let us hope. What is worrisome, however, is how it is going to eat. The Internet allows new voices, but it also undercuts the traditional magazines and newspapers that at least pretended to pay. The Web forces more people to join in the rat-race to earn a living or find an academic or neo-academic position – or vanish. With some small changes Wilson’s note could be redone today: “Edmund Wilson is delighted to: Read Manuscripts,” etc. As the institutions get fatter, intellectuals get weaker, more proof of the dwindling force of cognition in bourgeois society.

En intressant profil och intervju av Scialabba finns i Inside Higher Education:

”I was, to an unusual degree, living in my head rather than my body,” he says about the 1970s. ”I had emerged from Opus Dei with virtually no friends, a conscious tendency to identify my life course with the trajectory of modernity, and an unconscious need to be a saint, apostle, missionary. And I had inherited from my working-class Italian family no middle-class expectations, ambitions, social skills, ego structures.”

Instead, he says, ”I read a lot and seethed with indignation at all forms of irrational authority or even conventional respectability. So I didn’t take any constructive steps, like becoming a revolutionary or a radical academic…. In those days, it wasn’t quite so weird not to be ascending some career ladder.”

So he settled into a job that left him with time to think and write. And to deal with the possibility of eternal damnation — something that can occasionally bedevil one part of the mind, even while the secular and modernist half retains its disbelief.

Not: jfr. med Garton Ash angående Isaiah Berlin:

Small wonder he spoke of himself in Britain as a ”Metic”—the ancient Greek word for an alien living in a Greek city, having some but not all the rights of citizenship. And it was this sense of foreignness, critical distance, never quite being fully at home, that fed his intellectual growth. Often the difference between an academic and an intellectual lies precisely in this stubborn grain of alienation. All intellectuals are mental Metics.

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Föregående bloggpost: (Jacob?) Boström och narcissismen

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