THE PUBLIC AND THE INTELLECTUALS


The intellectual and the bureaucracy
Excerpts from an Emory conference on Critical Conjunctions: Institutional Critique, Cultural Brokerage, and Cultural Display.


Join the discussion
Should all scholars consider themselves public intellectuals?

The Public and the Intellectuals
Seeing and speaking beyond the academy

You can't say that everybody should be a public intellectual. People are diversely gifted. That ought to be something we celebrate.
Luke Johnson, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins

The inventors or discoverers of knowledge should be in the business of disseminating that knowledge.
Jagdish Sheth, Kellstadt Professor of Marketing

Rebuilding the "infostructure"
Technology transfer and the future of the university

Does your research concern Atlanta?

Further Reading
A University Decides That Its Ph.D.'s Should Be Able to Talk to Average Joes
From the Chronicle of Higher Education, October 8, 1999

The Uncertain Value of Training Public Intellectuals
From the Chronicle of Higher Education, September 24, 1999

Do Academic Giants Still Walk the Earth?
From the Chronicle of Higher Education, September 10, 1999

 


Academic Exchange October/November 1999 Contents Page

Last spring, Emory's Center for the Study of Public Scholarship hosted a two-day workshop on Critical Conjunctions: Institutional Critique, Cultural Brokerage, and Cultural Display. The first excerpt below is taken from a paper titled "Intellectuals, Culture, Policy: The Technical, the Practical, and the Critical," by Tony Bennett, professor of sociology at the Open University in England. The second excerpt is part of a comment from Ivan Karp, National Endowment for the Humanities Professor and director of the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship at Emory.

[Edward] Said's Representations of the Intellectual provides a convenient example of the practice of
'secular holiness' and the forms of critical intolerance and of ethical bullying it entails. Said's strategy in elaborating his view of the intellectual as an exile and marginal, as an amateur whose true vocation is "to speak the truth to power," depends on trapping professionals, experts, and consultants in the contaminating mire of their associations with worldly powers and the limitations, of perspective or of moral capacity, that these entail.

But how clear-sighted is the universal intellectual when he has cut a moral trench between himself and other intellectual workers? In truth: not very. Said, in what he has to say about the relationships between in-tellectuals and government, surveys the world through the tinted lenses of a metropolitan parochialism whose belief in its universal validity is based on nothing so much as a constitutive blindness to its own forms of limiting particularity. For when Said--speaking to and for all the world--places true intellectuals outside of government and charges them to speak the truth to power, it is clear that he imagines government always and only in the form of some branch of the U.S. science-military-industry complex. The possibility that, in other parts of the world, intellectuals might see themselves as speaking the truth to and for more local forms of power, with a view to muting or qualifying the effects of other forms of power, is simply not thinkable from within Said's elementary, bi-polar construction of the relations of truth and power.
--
Tony Bennett, The Open University

I had a strong response to Tony's critique of Edward Said. I thought of several things. The first was the way in which Emory University, in common with so many of our well-off educational institutions in the United States, configures the role
of the public intellectual in society. There is nothing so prestigious at Emory as to bring in someone for a year or longer who is an important person to sit here and think deep thoughts and somehow, by virtue of thinking them, change the structure of society. But over and over again, that act of bringing public intellectuals into the institution does not seem to entail the engagement of those public intellectuals with people in the institution itself, or the multiple communities who are part of the university constituencies. Once we've done the story and the publicity is out, we move on. Yet the gap between the academy and the cadres of public scholars who work in so many communities and non-academic cultural institutions remains as wide as ever.

The second thought I had was that Tony also could apply his criticism equally well to a certain notion of the role of the artist as a uniquely creative individual that legitimizes so much that passes for cultural production these days. The concept of the artist and other public intellectuals, as well, is fundamentally Romantic and characteristic of a nineteenth-century conception of art and individuality that Isaiah Berlin refers to as "the apotheosis of the Romantic will." Somehow, the very act of creativity or cognition is deemed to be transforming of society, without any other kind of work or action. A kind of aesthetic magic is involved whereby an appreciative audience is changed by virtue of contact with artists and/or intellectuals and their work. . . . It seems to me that this stance ignores the insertion of artists into society as much as inserting so-called public intellectuals in the university ignores the fact that, as Antonio Gramsci said, "all men are intellectuals. But not all men have in society the function of intellectuals."
--
Ivan Karp, Emory University