Transcript: Mark Kingswell on the Intellectual in Everyday Life | Apr 15, 2001

A slate with two Doric columns reads "Mark Kingwell. 'Critics and cranks: Representations of the intellectual in everyday life.'"

[applause]

Mark Kingwell stands behind a carved wooden lectern in a university classroom and addresses an unseen audience. He's in his thirties, clean-shaven, with short brown hair. He's wearing a black suit and shirt.

He says THE REMARKS THAT I'M GOING
TO MAKE TODAY ARE INTENDED
TO PROBE THE IDEA OF
CRITICAL ENGAGEMENT IN A
MEDIA-SATURATED CULTURE.
AND I WANT TO BEGIN THAT
TASK WITH A SIGNIFICANT
RECENT DEPICTION OF
INTELLECTUALS IN EVERYDAY LIFE.
AND IT COMES, AS SO
MUCH EXEMPLARY CULTURAL
COMMENTARY DOES, FROM THE
ANIMATED TELEVISION SERIES
THE SIMPSONS.
SO IN ORDER TO MOVE THIS
PART OF THE TALK ALONG I
HAVE A COUPLE OF EXTREMELY
LOW-TECH VISUAL AIDS.
THIS IS THE FIRST ONE WHICH
I'M GOING TO PUT HERE.

He places a small yellow and blue figurine on the lectern and continues
I DON'T KNOW IF YOU CAN SEE
THAT, BUT THAT'S HOMER.
IT'S A PEZ DISPENSER, FOR
THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE NOT
CULTURALLY LITERATE.
ALL RIGHT.
IN AN EPISODE FROM EARLIER
THIS SEASON, HOMER, THE
PATRIARCH OF THIS BENIGHTED
ALL AMERICAN FAMILY,
DISCOVERS THROUGH A
CONVOLUTED CHAIN OF EVENTS
THAT HE HAS A CRAYON
LODGED IN HIS BRAIN.
IT HAS, APPARENTLY, BEEN
THERE SINCE A CHILDHOOD
INCIDENT IN WHICH HE
ATTEMPTED TO FORCE AS MANY
CRAYONS AS POSSIBLE INTO
HIS HEAD VIA HIS EARS
AND NOSTRILS.
AN EXPLOSIVE SNEEZE BROUGHT
THEM ALL HURDLING OUT, BUT
HOMER HAD, IN THE MEANTIME, LOST
COUNT OF EXACTLY HOW MANY
CRAYONS HE'D INSERTED, AND
SO CONTINUED ON IN HIS LIFE
HAPPILY OBLIVIOUS TO
THE FACT THERE WAS ONE
REMAINING FOREIGN OBJECT.
NOW, ONCE DISCOVERED, THIS
LAST CRAYON IS QUICKLY
REMOVED SURGICALLY, AND
HOMER DISCOVERS TO HIS
SURPRISE, THAT HE IS
ACTUALLY AN INTELLECTUAL.
HE IS OF ABOVE
AVERAGE INTELLIGENCE.
THIS HAS MANY POSITIVE
CONSEQUENCES, NOT LEAST A
NEW FASHION SENSE
INVOLVING, AMONG OTHER
THINGS, JACKETS AND CRAVATS
AFTER THE MANNER OF NOEL
COWARD OR JOHN RALSTON
SAUL, AND AN IMMEDIATELY
IMPROVED RELATIONSHIP WITH
HIS DAUGHTER, LISA...

He places a red and yellow figurine of Lisa on the lectern and continues
WHO HAS BEEN UNTIL NOW
THE EMBATTLED VOICE OF
INTELLECTUAL CONSCIENCE
IN THE FAMILY'S PLAY OF
SIGNATURE AREAS.
IN AN EPISODE A FEW SEASONS
BACK, FOR EXAMPLE, YOU MAY
REMEMBER LISA HAD FEARED
STUPIDITY WAS HEREDITARY IN
THE SIMPSON FAMILY, AND
DESPAIRED OF HER INEVITABLE
DECLINE UNTIL SHE WAS
CONFRONTED BY MEMBERS OF
THE FEMALE SIDE OF THE
FAMILY, ALL OF WHOM WERE
ACCOMPLISHED PROFESSIONAL
WOMEN WITH DEGREES AND
THRIVING SOCIALLY
CONSCIOUS CAREERS.
BUT THERE ARE SOME
UNFORESEEN DIFFICULTIES
WITH HOMER'S REEMERGENCE AS
AN INTELLECTUAL, HOWEVER.
HE BEGINS TO TAKE SERIOUSLY
HIS JOB AS THE SECURITY
OFFICER AT A LARGE
NUCLEAR POWER PLANT.
AND HIS WHISTLE BLOWING
ABOUT SAFETY VIOLATIONS
LEADS, IN TURN, TO MASSIVE
LAY-OFFS AS THE PLANT IS
SHUT DOWN.
HOMER'S FORMER FRIENDS AND
COLLEAGUES BURN HIM IN
EFFIGY IN THE
LOCAL BAR, MOE'S.
THEY HIT HIM IN THE HEAD
WITH A PLANK AND THROW HIM
OUT ONTO THE STREET.
HE THEN GOES TO A POPULAR
MOVIE STARRING JULIA ROBERTS
AND RICHARD GERE,
INGENIOUSLY ENTITLED
LOVE IS NICE, AND WATCHES IN
MOUNTING BOREDOM AS THE CLICHÉ
PLOT LURCHES TOWARDS ITS ALL
TOO PREDICTABLE CONCLUSION.
HE CORRECTS A NEARBY
AUDIENCE MEMBER WHO
CONFUSES BILL PULLMAN WITH
BILL PAXTON, THEN COMPLAINS
THAT, OF COURSE, THEY ALL
KNOW THAT THE TWO MAIN
CHARACTERS ARE GOING
TO END UP TOGETHER.
THE AUDIENCE AROUND HIM,
SHOCKED BY THIS THOUGHTLESS
REVELATION OF THE CONCLUSION
THEY HAD NOT FORESEEN,
ATTACK HIM, HIT HIM AGAIN
IN THE HEAD WITH A PLANK,
AND EJECT HIM
FROM THE THEATRE.
IT'S AT THIS POINT HOMER
DECIDES HE NO LONGER WANTS
TO BE AN INTELLECTUAL.
SO HE GOES TO MOE, THE
BARTENDER WHO DOUBLES AS AN
AMATEUR SURGEON, TO HAVE THE
CRAYON REINSERTED IN HIS BRAIN.
MOE POSITIONS IT IN HOMER'S
NOSE AND BEGINS HITTING THE
CRAYON WITH A HANDY
BALL-PEEN HAMMER.
THE FURTHER THE CRAYON
ENTERS HOMER'S BRAIN,
THE DUMBER HE BECOMES.
AND WHEN HE SAYS GUARANTEED
WARRANTY, I CAN'T LOSE, MOE
KNOWS HE'S GONE FAR ENOUGH,
AND HOMER HAS BEEN RESTORED
TO HIS FORMER STATE
OF HAPPY STUPIDITY.
ONLY LISA IS DISTRAUGHT AT THE
RETURN OF THE FAMILIAR HOMER.
BUT HER FATHER HANDS HER A
LETTER WRITTEN BEFORE HE
UNDERWENT THE BACK
ROOM OPERATION.
IN IT HE EXPLAINS THAT HE
TOOK THE COWARD'S WAY OUT
IN RETURNING HIS TO STATUS
AS AN IGNORANT, BIGOTED,
SMALL-MINDED POSTER BOY OF
DUMB ASS AMERICAN MANHOOD.
HE TELLS HER HE COULD
NOT ENDURE THE SENSE OF
ISOLATION AND DISCONTENT,
NOT TO MENTION THE PLANK
BLOWS TO THE HEAD, ENTAILED
BY BEING AN INTELLECTUAL
MAN IN THAT CULTURE.
BEING A SMART MAN
IN A DUMB WORLD.
NOW, WHAT'S THE
POINT OF THIS STORY?
IT SEEMS TO ME IT NEATLY
ILLUSTRATES ONE COMMONLY
HELD VIEW OF INTELLECTUALS.
A VIEW THAT IS, LET IT BE
SAID, HIGHLY FLATTERING TO
THEIR SELF-IMAGE.
IT IS A VIEW THAT I WANT TO
SPEND SOME TIME WITH NOW
BECAUSE IT'S OPPOSITIONAL
CHARACTER, EVEN IN A
SATIRICAL TREATMENT
IS FOREMOST.
THIS IS THE PICTURE OF THE
INTELLECTUAL AS A KIND OF
CULTURAL REBEL.
THAT HOMER CHOOSES NOT TO
CONTINUE IN THIS ROLE, WHICH
THE STORY LEADS US TO
BELIEVE AGAINST ALL
PREVIOUS EVIDENCE IS HIS
NATURAL ONE, CAN ONLY BE
TAKEN TO MEAN THAT BEING
AN INTELLECTUAL REQUIRES A
CONSISTENT ACT OF RARE
COURAGE ON THIS DEPICTION.
IT MEANS, AMONG OTHER
THINGS, FOREGOING THE
SIMPLE PLEASURES OF THE
MASS MARKET, AND ENDURING
THE OPPROBRIUM OF THOSE MORE
COMPLACENT AND LESS VIGILANT
THAN ONESELF.
SO WHETHER IT'S OVER SAFETY
STANDARDS OR AESTHETIC
STANDARDS, THE INTELLECTUAL
EMERGES HERE AS A KIND OF
CULTURAL GUARDIAN.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Mark Kingwell. University of Toronto. 'Critics and cranks.'"

Mark continues FEARED AND RESENTED, BUT
NEVERTHELESS FEELING
HIMSELF SUPERIOR.
NOW THIS IS A COMMON
PIECE OF INTELLECTUAL
SELF-CONGRATULATION REIGNING
OVER THE EXTENT LITERATURE
EVEN IN MORE RESPECTABLE
SOURCES THAN
THE SIMPSONS.
PLATO'S DEFENCE OF THE TRUE
PHILOSOPHER, FOR INSTANCE,
AGAINST THE FALSE CLAIMS OF
THE SOPHIST IN THE SERVICE
OF JUSTICE AND THE GOOD
SET THE AGENDA EARLY.
HERE THE INTELLECTUAL IS A
DEDICATED ESOTERIC SEER.
A STRINGENT AND PROVOCATIVE,
WHO UNSHACKLES THE CHAINS
OF DELUSION, INDOLENCE
AND COMMON SENSE.
AND IN OUR OWN DAY, THIS IS
STILL VERY MUCH THE VIEW OF
INTELLECTUALS DEFENDED BY
BOTH RICHARD HOFSTADTER AND
EDWARD SAID IN THEIR RESPECTIVE
INFLUENTIAL BOOKS ON THE PLACE
OF INTELLECTUALS IN
AMERICAN AND MASS CULTURE.
THESE TWO ADJECTIVES, BY
THE WAY, AMERICAN AND MASS
CULTURE, HAVE BECOME MORE
OR LESS SYNONYMOUS IN THE
YEARS THAT SEPARATE
HOFSTADTER'S 1963 STUDY,
"ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IN
AMERICAN LIFE," AND SAID'S
1994 EFFORT, "REPRESENTATIONS
OF THE INTELLECTUAL."
IS THIS A VIEW THAT HAS
ANY MEASURE OF TRUTH?
WELL, TO STAY WITH THE
HANDY MATERIALS OF POPULAR
CULTURE FOR THE MOMENT,
WHO AMONG US HAS NOT SAT
THROUGH A RECENT HOLLYWOOD
MOVIE THAT WAS RENDERED
UNWATCHABLE BY WEIGHT OF CLICHÉ
AND STALE CHARACTERIZATION?
WHO HAS NOT GROWN WITH
APPREHENSION OR MERELY
SAGGED INWARDLY AT THE
APPEARANCE OF A CHARACTER
WHOSE VERY LINES COULD BE
UTTERED IN ADVANCE OF THE EVENT?
AS THEODORE ADORNO SAYS IN
MINIMA MORALIA,
PERHAPS
THE MOST STRINGENT
DEFENCE OF THIS NOTION OF
INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT,
HE SAYS THIS WITH HIS
TRADEMARK BITTER AND
IMPRESSIVE WELTSCHMERTZ,
"EVERY VISIT TO THE CINEMA
LEAVES ME, AGAINST ALL MY
VIGILANCE,
STUPIDER AND WORSE."

[laughter]

Mark continues THIS KIND OF CINEMATIC
PREDICTABILITY EVEN HAS A
STRANGE SELF-REFERENTIAL
INSTANTIATION FOR INTELLECTUALS.
AS WHEN FOR EXAMPLE IN A
SERIES OF 1990's ACTION
MOVIES, WHICH INCLUDES
EXECUTIVE DECISION
AND
THE ROCK, FORMERLY NERDY
PhDs ARE DISARMED OF THEIR
CRITICAL CAPACITIES BY
BEING LITERALLY ARMED WITH
AUTOMATIC WEAPONS.
THIS IS A TENDENCY
I'VE NOTED ELSEWHERE.
WE KNOW THE TRIUMPH OF
ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IS
COMPLETE IN POPULAR
CULTURE WHEN THE WAY THESE
TROUBLING AND PRESUMPTIVELY
UNMANLY MEN, LIVING THE
LIFE OF THE MIND, ARE
BROUGHT TO HEEL IS BY
MAKING THEM INTO ULTRA
VIOLENT VIGILANTES.
NICOLAS CAGE COMPLAINING IN
THE ROCK
THAT HE IS NOT CUT
OUT FOR THE KIND OF GUN
PLAY ANTICS OF HIS CO-STAR
SEAN CONNERY SAYS,
"I CAN'T DO THIS.
I DRIVE A VOLVO.
A BEIGE VOLVO."
I'VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO
DECIDE WHETHER THIS LINE IS
JUST A LUCKY HIT, OR
INSTEAD AN EXTREMELY SAVVY
CULTURAL REFERENCE
TO STANLEY FISH'S
FAMOUS DENUNCIATION OF
FALSELY MODEST ACADEMIC
POSTURING WHICH YOU MAY KNOW.
THE TITLE OF IT IS "ON THE
UNBEARABLE UGLINESS OF VOLVOS."
IN THIS WAY, IN A SENSE, TWO
FALSE SELF-IMAGES MEET ONE
ANOTHER WITH THE FINAL
RESULT BEING SOME DECENT
JOKES AND A HIGH BODY
COUNT, BUT REALLY VERY
LITTLE INSIGHT.
MORE SERIOUSLY, THE NOTION
OF INTELLECTUALS SPEAKING
TRUTH TO POWER IN SAID'S
HABITUAL PHRASE, IS STILL A
CHERISHED ONE AMONG
THINKERS AND WRITERS, EVEN
WHEN THEY ARE NOT
EXPLICITLY ENGAGED IN
POLITICAL CRITICISM.
THIS IS A SENSE IN WHICH
INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT MAY
ALWAYS HAVE A POLITICAL
DIMENSION EVEN WHEN THAT IS
NOT THE OBVIOUS TOPIC
OF ITS DISCOURSE.
CHALLENGING THE DOMINANCE OF
GIVEN THOUGHT CLUSTERS AND
PATTERNS OF THINKING IS
ALWAYS A POLITICAL ACT,
IN MY VIEW.
IT UNSETTLES THE TAKEN FOR
GRANTED, ALREADY THOUGHT
ASPECTS OF EVERYDAY LIFE
THAT ARE IDEOLOGICAL NOT IN
THE OBVIOUS SENSE, BUT
IN THE STRUCTURAL SENSE.
THAT IS THEY DEFINE WHAT
IS COMMON SENSE, WHAT IS
ACCEPTED WITHOUT QUESTION.
AND OFTEN THESE CHALLENGES
WORK BY FOCUSING ON THE
NATURE OF DISCOURSE ITSELF.
THE WAY LANGUAGE INSCRIBES
PATTERNS OF DOMINATION IN
WHAT IT MAKES
SAYABLE OR THINKABLE.
I HAVE IN MIND HERE
SOMETHING LIKE GEORGE ORWELL'S
JUSTLY CELEBRATED DISSECTION OF
POLITICAL EUPHEMISM IN HIS
ESSAY, "POLITICS IN
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE."
ORWELL'S CENTRAL ARGUMENT
IS THAT SLICK, EVASIVE
LANGUAGE, THE HABITS OF THE
BUREAUCRATIC MIND, TAKE THE
UNJUSTIFIABLE, AND
THEREFORE UNSAYABLE, AND RENDER
IT INTO BLAND, POLISHED
LOCUTIONS EMPTY OF SENSE.
IN A FORESHADOW OF THE
FICTIONAL NEW SPEAK HE WOULD
CREATE IN
1984,
ORWELL SKEWERS
THE PLASTICITY OF LANGUAGE
WHEN IT COMES TO SMOOTHING
OVER POWER'S DEPREDATIONS.
AND THIS WARNING ABOUT
THE WAY LANGUAGE BURIES
IDEOLOGY IS, I
THINK, TIMELESS.
SALMAN RUSHDIE ONCE SAID
THAT ANY WRITER, ANY
THINKER, ANY CITIZEN,
SHOULD REREAD ORWELL'S
ESSAY AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR
TO BE REMINDED OF HOW
LANGUAGE IS BOTH A
TOOL AND AN ENEMY.
INDEED, ONE COULD GROW WEARY
OF REPORTING EXAMPLES OF
NEW SPEAK TENDENCIES IN THE
LANGUAGES OF BUREAUCRACY
AND POWER.
FROM WINNIPEG'S OLD PUBLIC
SAFETY BUILDING, FOR EXAMPLE,
WHICH WAS ACTUALLY A
JAIL, TO, AND WE USED TO
CALL IT THE MINISTRY OF
LOVE, BY THE WAY, THOSE OF
US WHO LIVED THERE.
THROUGH THINGS LIKE
CORPORATE RIGHT SIZING AND
OUT PLACEMENT, OTHERWISE
KNOWN AS CUTBACKS AND
GETTING THE AXE, TO
NATURALLY MIKE HARRIS'
COMMON SENSE REVOLUTION IN
ONTARIO, WHICH IS ANYTHING
BUT COMMON SENSE, WHICH IS,
IN FACT, A THINLY-VEILED
RIGHT WING CRUSADE TO UNDO
THE GOOD OF FIVE DECADES OF
CITIZEN-BASED
SOCIAL PROGRAMS.
SO THIS IS ONE WAY THAT
INTELLECTUALS CAN FULFILL
THEIR PURPOSE AS
CULTURAL CRITICS.
AND EXPOSING AND
CHALLENGING THESE KINDS OF
PRESUPPOSITIONS OR TAKEN
FOR GRANTED ASPECTS OF
DISCOURSE, WHATEVER THEY
MAY BE, IS A CARDINAL TASK
FOR THE INTELLECTUAL.
AND IT'S THIS FACT WHICH
GIVES SOME CREDENCE TO THE
CRUSADING IMAGE OF THE
INTELLECTUAL AS A GREAT
REVEALER, A DEFT SURGEON
OF THE COMMONPLACE.
BUT I WANT TO COMPLICATE
THAT REPRESENTATION OF
INTELLECTUALS BECAUSE
I THINK IT CONTAINS A
TENDENCY, OR SET OF THEM,
WHICH MAY WELL PROVE
SELF-DEFEATING IN THE
CURRENT CULTURAL LANDSCAPE.
IN OTHER WORDS, IT'S
NECESSARY FOR US TO
DESTABILIZE OUR OWN
PRESUPPOSITIONS ABOUT
INTELLECTUAL SELF-REGARD,
JUST AS MUCH AS IT'S
NECESSARY FOR US
TO DESTABILIZE THE
PRESUPPOSITIONS OF ANY
CULTURAL PROPERTY.
HERE'S ADORNO AGAIN.
"INTELLECTUALS," HE SAYS, "ARE
AT ONCE THE LAST ENEMIES OF
THE BOURGEOIS AND
THE LAST BOURGEOIS.
IN STILL PERMITTING
THEMSELVES TO THINK AT ALL
IN THE FACE OF THE NAKED
REPRODUCTION OF EXISTENCE,
THEY ACT AS A
PRIVILEGE GROUP.
IN LETTING MATTERS REST
THERE, THEY DECLARE THE
NULLITY OF THEIR PRIVILEGE."
WELL, PERHAPS A LITTLE
HELPFULLY THAN THAT,
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS LIKES
TO REMIND US THAT SPEAKING
TRUTH TO POWER IS
ACTUALLY POINTLESS.
POWER ALREADY KNOWS ALL
ABOUT TRUTH, IT JUST
DOESN'T CARE.
IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE
WORLD, YOU'VE GOT TO SPEAK
TRUTH TO THE POWERLESS.
AND THIS INVOLVES, FIRST OF
ALL, A KEENER AWARENESS OF
THE SOPHISTICATED DODGES
AND ASSIMILATIONIST
STRATEGIES OF MASS CULTURE.
IT'S SIGNIFICANT, AFTER ALL,
NOT ONLY THAT THE SIMPSONS
REPRESENTED INTELLECTUALS
IN THE MANNER I DESCRIBED
EARLIER, BUT THAT
INTELLECTUALS WERE EVEN
REPRESENTED ON
THE SIMPSONS.
NOW, IT'S TRUE THAT THE SHOW
IS ALSO FULL OF STANDARD
ANTI-INTELLECTUAL GESTURES.
"JOBLESSNESS IS NO LONGER
JUST FOR PHILOSOPHY MAJORS."
A NEWS ANCHOR SAYS IN ONE EPISODE.
"USEFUL PEOPLE ARE
STARTING TO FEEL THE PINCH."

[laughter]

Mark continues BUT THE SHOW TENDS TO
UNDERMINE THESE JOKES EVEN
WHILE MAKING THEM.
SO UNLIKE MANY EARLIER FORMS
OF CULTURAL SEEPAGE, THIS
ONE HAS, I THINK, AN
UNCERTAIN OR UNSTABLE
ENTAILMENT, WHICH I BELIEVE
IS NEW AND WORTH EXPLORING.
WHEN I LEARNED MOST OF WHAT
I KNOW ABOUT OPERA FROM
WATCHING BUGS BUNNY, FOR
EXAMPLE, HIGH AND LOW
CULTURE WERE MIXED, BUT
NOT IN A WAY THAT ACTUALLY
EFFACED THE BOUNDARY
BETWEEN THEM.
WHICH IS WHAT I
THINK WE SEE NOW.
THE BUGS BUNNY OPERA
ILLUSIONS WERE
STRAIGHTFORWARD REFERENCES.
FUNNY IN BEING OUT OF
CONTEXT, SURE, BUT MOSTLY
REINFORCING OF THE EXISTING
CATEGORIES OF HIGH AND LOW.
NOW, HOWEVER, NOW THAT BUGS
BUNNY WATCHERS ARE THE
INTELLECTUALS, THESE
CATEGORIES HAVE LITTLE
OR NO PURCHASE ON
CRITICAL DISCOURSE.
AND THIS NEW KIND OF
COMBINATION OR ERASURE OF
WHAT WERE FORMERLY LABELLED
HIGH AND LOW CULTURAL
ELEMENTS, ALLOWS FOR A NEW
AND POSSIBLY LESS HELPFUL
FORM OF THE OLD
ELITIST SUPERIORITY OF
INTELLECTUALS, SAY, AS
REPRESENTED BY ADORNO AND
HORKHEIMER IN THEIR
DENUNCIATION OF THE
CULTURE INDUSTRY.
I THINK THIS CAN BE HARD TO
SEE AT FIRST GLANCE BECAUSE
OUR INITIAL RESPONSE AS
INTELLECTUALS, IF WE SEE
OURSELVES THAT WAY, IS
A FORM OF SECOND ORDER
PLEASURE THAT WE ARE, AFTER
ALL, SPENDING THAT HALF
HOUR WATCHING AN ANIMATED
TELEVISION SERIES LIKE
THE SIMPSONS, AND NOT, FOR
INSTANCE, READING A HUNDRED
PAGES OF
THE DIALECTIC
OF ENLIGHTENMENT.
WE SAY NOBODY CAN ACCUSE
US OF BEING IVORY
TOWER INTELLECTUALS.
AT THE SAME TIME, OUR
SELF-REGARD HAS NOT REALLY
BEEN CHALLENGED BY THIS
ENGAGEMENT, IT'S MERELY
BEEN REINFORCED.
I THINK THIS IS A STRANGE
NEW WAY OF DEALING WITH
POPULAR CULTURE.
ONE REASON INTELLECTUALS
LIKE
THE SIMPSONS,
AFTER
ALL, JUST AS THEY OFTEN
LIKE BASEBALL AND LAS VEGAS
IS BECAUSE THESE ARE
CULTURAL MANIFESTATIONS
THAT ARE SUFFICIENTLY
COMPLEX, IRONIZED, OR
SIMULACRAL TO ALLOW THE
FREE PLAY OF OUR PARTICULAR
KIND OF FUN.
MAKING CONNECTIONS, NOTICING
ILLUSIONS, UNDERMINING THE
STABILITY OF REFERENCES,
MAKING NEW REFERENCES,
SEEING HIDDEN AGENDAS,
BEING SOPHISTICATED.
THIS MAKES SOPHISTICATION,
EVEN OF THE INTELLECTUAL
KIND, NOT INTO A POLITICAL
ACT AT ALL, BUT INTO ONE
THAT MERELY REINFORCES
THE EXISTING CULTURE.
SO POSSIBLE APPEARANCES
TO THE CONTRARY, THIS
REPRESENTATION OF THE
INTELLECTUAL ON
THE SIMPSONS
IS JUST AS
ELITIST, AND JUST AS
UNHELPFUL AS ANY HIGH
CULTURE PERFORMANCE
DEFENDED IN THE TRADITIONAL
MANNER BY AN OLD-FASHIONED
CULTURAL ELITIST.
NOW, NOTICE, I DON'T MEAN
HERE THE OBVIOUS PROBLEM OF
MAKING ACADEMIC FODDER
OF POPULAR CULTURE.
THE EASILY PARODIED WRITING
OF INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND
JARGON-RIDDEN ARTICLES
ABOUT TELEVISION OR MOVIES.
I MEAN A TRICKIER PROBLEM
OF HOW ANY INTELLECTUAL
RELATES TO A DOMINANT
CULTURE AT ALL.
ESPECIALLY ONE THAT
IS, AS NOW, ALL POP.
NOW THE POINT HERE IS NOT
AGAIN TO TAKE
THE SIMPSONS
AWAY FROM US, BUT TO
RECOGNIZE THE COMPLEXITY OF
THE PROBLEM OF BEING AN
INTELLECTUAL IN THIS CULTURE.
WHICH, AS I SAID, HAPPILY,
AND SOMETIMES CONFUSINGLY,
MIXES ELEMENTS OF
CELEBRATION AND CRITIQUE,
DOMINANCE AND SUBVERSION.
NOW THIS COMPLEXITY HAS AT
LEAST THREE PRONGS, WHICH I
THINK WE CAN ISOLATE IN AN
EFFORT TO THINK MORE CLEARLY
ABOUT THE GENERAL PROJECT
OF THINKING CLEARLY.
WHICH IS WHAT I THINK
WE OUGHT TO MEAN BY
INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT.
SO THE FIRST PRONG, I THINK
WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE IN THE
FIRST INSTANCE, THAT IN
A CULTURE SUCH AS OURS,
INTELLECTUAL INTERVENTIONS
ARE NOT RESTRICTED IN
THEIR AVAILABILITY.
THAT IS, ANYBODY CAN SET
HIM OR HERSELF UP AS
AN INTELLECTUAL.
THE SIMPSONS, AFTER ALL,
IS A WIDELY SHARED CULTURAL
PROPERTY, STAYING WITH
THAT INSTANCE FOR NOW.
CHILDREN LOVE IT, SO DO
MANY ADULTS WHO WOULD NEVER
FANCY THEMSELVES
INTELLECTUALS, INDEED,
WOULD HAVE NO
WISH TO DO SO.
AND YET, THESE PEOPLE WATCH
THE SHOW WITH EVIDENT ENJOYMENT.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE
THINGS THAT ARE GOING ON?
ARE THEY
INTELLECTUALS MANQUE,
OR DOES THE SHOW WORK
ON MANY LEVELS AT ONCE?
OR IS IRONY SO PERVASIVE IN
THE CULTURE NOW AS TO BE A
HABITUAL RESPONSE ON
THE PART OF ANY GENERAL
AUDIENCE, NOT JUST A
SPECIALIZED KNOWING ONE?
ALL OF THESE CONJECTURES
CONTAIN SOME MEASURES OF TRUTH.
AND THEY ARE EXAMPLES OF THE
COMPLEX, CRITICAL, AND EVEN
SUBVERSIVE ELEMENTS IN
THE DOMINANT CULTURE.
THEY SEEM TO UNDERMINE
THE OLD IDEA, THIS IS THE
ADORNO HORKHEIMER PICTURE,
THAT THERE IS ON THE ONE
HAND A DUPED MASS, AND
ON THE OTHER HAND, AN
ENLIGHTENED COGNOSCENTI
TRYING TO RESCUE THEM FROM
THEIR OWN SELF-DELUSION.
I DON'T THINK THIS PICTURE
IS COMPLEX ENOUGH TO
CAPTURE THE KINDS OF
ENGAGEMENTS THAT PEOPLE NOW
HAVE WITH THEIR CULTURE.
IN A SENSE, IT WOULD ALL BE
SO MUCH SIMPLER IF THE CRUDE
VERSION OF THE ADORNO HORKHEIMER
PICTURE WERE ACCURATE.
THEN WE, THE SMART ONES,
COULD GO ABOUT OUR PROJECTS
OF CRITIQUE, NOT
NECESSARILY WITH THE
CONFIDENCE THAT WE WOULD
SUCCEED IN FINALLY
ENLIGHTENING A
CREDULOUS POPULATION.
THAT, AFTER ALL, WOULD
PUT US OUT OF BUSINESS.
BUT THAT WE HOLD SOME KIND
OF MASTER KEY TO THE PUZZLE
OF CULTURAL DOMINATION.
AND OF COURSE THAT WOULD
BE A NICE FEELING TO HAVE.
BUT IT'S JUST TOO SIMPLE.
AND, FRANKLY, IT'S JUST
TOO CRANKY, AS WELL.
THINK ABOUT ADORNO AGAIN.
IF THE COST OF BEING RIGHT
IN THE SENSE OF BEING THE
INTELLECTUAL WHO GETS IT, IS
THAT LIKE ADORNO, WE HAVE
TO ABOMINATE MOTELS AND
FILMS AND JAZZ ON THE
RADIO, THEN I SUSPECT MANY
OF US WOULD SAY THANKS
BUT NO THANKS.
NOW, THIS UNDESIRABLE END
GAME, WHICH TO BE HONEST IS
ONLY A CARICATURE OF
ADORNO'S COMPLEX AND
PRICKLY VIEWS, THIS END
GAME EXPOSES THE SECOND
PRONG OF OUR SITUATION NOW.
THERE'S A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT
HERITAGE OR REPRESENTATION
OF THE INTELLECTUAL
THAT WE CAN REFER TO.
THE ONE COMING FROM GRAMSCI.
THE OLD GRAMSCIAN IMAGE OF
THE INTELLECTUAL WAS OF A
DEDICATED CRITIC WHO COULD,
BY STAYING ONE STEP AHEAD
OF THE TIDE OF MASS
CULTURE, FIGHT OFF THE SOFT
FORCES OF DOMINATION.
TO THAT EXTENT, GRAMSCI'S
PICTURE ACCORDS WITH
ADORNO'S AND
WITH THE STANDARD
SELF-CONGRATULATORY ONE.
BUT UNLIKE ADORNO, GRAMSCI
WAS INCLUSIVE ON THE
QUESTION OF WHO COULD
BE AN INTELLECTUAL.
"ALL MEN ARE INTELLECTUALS,"
HE WRITES IN HIS PRISON
NOTEBOOKS, "BUT NOT ALL
MEN HAVE, IN SOCIETY, THE
FUNCTION OF INTELLECTUALS."
LEAVE ASIDE FOR NOW THE
QUESTION OF WOMEN, WHICH
HE DOESN'T MENTION.
GRAMSCI THOUGHT THAT BEING AN
INTELLECTUAL INVOLVED A
CRITICAL ATTITUDE TO THE WHOLE
OF ONE'S CULTURAL CONTEXT.
ONE NEEDED, IN A SENSE, TO
HAVE ONE FOOT OUTSIDE THE
BEWITCHED CIRCLE OF CULTURE.
TO BE IN IT, BUT NOT OF IT.
PUT ONESELF IN A KIND OF
POSITION OF INTERNAL EXILE.
NOW, ONCE AGAIN, THIS IS
AN ATTRACTIVE PICTURE,
BUT THERE'S A PROBLEM
WITH THIS PROJECT.
AND THAT IS THERE MAY
NOW BE NO SUCH OUTSIDE.
THIS WAS PROBABLY
ALWAYS TRUE.
I SUSPECT IT WAS, ANYWAY,
BUT I THINK IT'S EVEN MORE
OBVIOUSLY TRUE NOW WHEN ONE
INHABITS A MASS CULTURE
THAT'S RULED BY THE VALUES OF
SPEED, NOVELTY AND KNOWINGNESS.
GRAMSCI'S IDEA THAT WE COULD
OUTPACE CULTURAL FORCES IS
SELF-DEFEATING.
IT'S IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY
INDIVIDUAL TO MOVE FASTER OR
BE MORE IRONIC, OR MORE
SOPHISTICATED THAN THE
CURRENTLY HEGEMONIC
FORCES OF THE CULTURE.
THEY ALWAYS OUTSTRIP
ONE'S ATTEMPTS AT
CRITICAL DISTANCE.
AS LONG AS CRITICAL DISTANCE
IS CONCEIVED IN THIS
EXTERNALIST FASHION.
SO THE CONTRADICTION NESTLED
IN THE HEART OF THE GRAMSCIAN
INVERSION OF THE
INTELLECTUAL PROJECT IS ONE
CONCERNING THE VERY IDEA OR
POSSIBILITY OF DOMINATION.
TAKING UP A CRITICAL STANCE
AGAINST HEGEMONY IS REALLY
A FORM OF TRYING TO
DOMINATE DOMINANCE.
IT IS, TO USE LEBANASIAN
LANGUAGE, A TOTALIZING ATTEMPT,
RATHER THAN AN
INFINITIZING ONE.
IT MEETS ONE PROJECT OF
DOMINATION, THE MASS
CULTURAL ONE, WITH ANOTHER
PROJECT OF DOMINATION, THE
INTELLECTUAL ONE.
AND EVEN IF THIS MOVE COULD
BE AFFECTED, AND AS I SAY,
I DON'T THINK IT CAN, IT WOULD
STILL FALL PREY TO SELF-DEFEAT.
WHY INTELLECTUAL DOMINATION
RATHER THAN CULTURAL, AFTER ALL?
IF DOMINATION IS WHAT YOU'RE
INTERESTED IN, YOU SHOULD
SIGN ON WITH THE PEOPLE
WHO HAVE THE POWER.
IT'S EVEN POSSIBLE JUST TO
ADD INSULT TO INJURY, THAT
TAKING UP SUCH A SUPERIOR
ATTITUDE FAILS EVEN TO BE
CRITICAL IN ITS OWN TERMS.
WHAT DO I MEAN?
WELL, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU
TRY TO DOMINATE DOMINATION?
IT MAY BE THE CASE THAT YOU
END UP PRICING YOURSELF OUT
OF THE CULTURAL MARKET?
MAKING INTELLECTUAL
INTERVENTIONS INTO A GAME
FOR SPECIALISTS ONLY.
THIS IS CERTAINLY WHAT
HAPPENS WHEN INTELLECTUALS
ARE TAMED AND WAREHOUSED
IN UNIVERSITIES.
MADE TO SEEK TENURE
THROUGH THE PUBLICATION OF
IMPENETRABLE JOURNAL
ARTICLES, AND GIVEN JUST
ENOUGH SALARY AND
SELF-RESPECT TO MAKE THEM
COMFORTABLY MIDDLE CLASS,
AND THEREFORE, NO DANGER
TO ANYBODY.
MORE SERIOUSLY, THE
ATTITUDE OF SUPERIORITY OR
DOMINATION WITH RESPECT TO
ONE'S OWN CULTURE CAN LEAD
TO A SPECIAL KIND
OF SELF-DECEPTION.
THE KIND THAT MARSHALL
MCLUHAN WARNED AGAINST, AND
CONSTANTLY TRIED TO FIGHT
OFF WITH ONLY LIMITED
SUCCESS, LET IT BE SAID.
MCLUHAN SAID IT IS PRECISELY
WHEN YOU THINK YOU
UNDERSTAND WHAT'S GOING ON
IN THE CULTURE THAT THE
CULTURE GETS THE
BETTER OF YOU.
COMPREHENSION IS THE ENEMY
TO BE FEARED, NOT THE GOAL
TO BE SOUGHT.
BECAUSE COMPREHENSION LEADS
TO MORALISM, COMPLACENCY,
SMUGNESS, AND THAT SPECIAL
KIND OF BLINDNESS, THE
BLINDNESS OF THINKING
YOU'VE FIGURED IT ALL OUT.
I WOULD GO FURTHER.
I WOULD SAY THIS IS REALLY
A PARTICULAR INSTANCE OF A
GENERAL PROBLEM WHICH
THINKERS OF ALL SORTS NEED
TO BE ON GUARD AGAINST.
WE CAN THINK OF IT AS THE
PARADOX OF SMARTNESS.
SMARTNESS TENDS NATURALLY
TO SEE ITSELF IN TERMS OF
PROBLEM SOLVING.
FROM OEDIPUS ONWARD, THE
RIDDLE HAS STOOD FOR US AS
AN APOTHEOSIS OF
INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT.
CLEVERNESS AND TENACITY,
SUBTLETY AND FLEXIBILITY OF
MIND, THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT
LEAD TO GOOD PROBLEM SOLVING.
NOW, WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE
THE DANGER OF PROBLEM
SOLVING'S INNER LOGIC.
THE WAY IT FACILITATES
INSTRUMENTAL REASON TO THE
DETRIMENT OF ALL OTHER
KINDS, FOR EXAMPLE.
OR THE WAY IT PRIZES
SUCCESS OVER WISDOM.
BEING SMART, IN SHORT,
IS A TRICKY BUSINESS.
EVEN WHEN APPARENTLY DEEP
OR CRITICAL, SMARTNESS CAN
LEAD US QUICKLY INTO THE
HEART OF THE MOUSE TRAPS OF
DOMINATION AND CONTROL.
HERE'S ADORNO ONCE AGAIN.
I BRING HIM UP, CRITICIZE
HIM, AND THEN QUOTE HIM
EXTENSIVELY IN THE
STANDARD ACADEMIC MANNER.
IT'S JUST HE GETS
THIS STUFF SO RIGHT.
SO THIS IS WHAT ADORNO
SAYS ABOUT PHILOSOPHERS.
"NOTHING IS MORE UNFITTING
FOR AN INTELLECTUAL
RESOLVED ON PRACTISING
WHAT WAS EARLIER CALLED
PHILOSOPHY THAN TO WISH, IN
DISCUSSION, AND ONE MIGHT
ALSO SAY IN ARGUMENTATION,
ALWAYS TO BE RIGHT.
WHEN PHILOSOPHERS WHO
ARE WELL KNOWN TO HAVE
DIFFICULTY IN KEEPING
SILENT ENGAGE IN
CONVERSATION, THEY SHOULD TRY
ALWAYS TO LOSE THE ARGUMENT.
BUT IN SUCH A WAY AS TO CONVICT
THEIR OPPONENT OF UNTRUTH.
THE POINT SHOULD NOT BE TO
HAVE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT,
IRREFUTABLE, WATERTIGHT
COGNITIONS, FOR THESE
INEVITABLY BOIL DOWN
TO TAUTOLOGY, BUT RATHER
INSIGHTS WHICH CAUSE THE
QUESTION OF THEIR JUSTNESS
TO JUDGE ITSELF."
THIS IS THE KIND OF
PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE APPROACH
TO PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT.
BUT NOTICE THE PROBLEM
EVEN WITH THIS.
HERE'S THE CENTRAL
CONTRADICTION AGAIN KICKED
UP ONE LEVEL.
THE WORLD IS DOMINATED,
WE MAY WANT TO SAY, BY A
CERTAIN KIND OF SMARTNESS.
THE SMARTNESS OF TECHNOLOGY,
PROBLEM SOLVING, METHOD.
THIS, THEN, WE SAY, IS
WHAT WE MUST OPPOSE.
BUT THEN THAT OPPOSITION
GENERALLY PURSUED BECOMES
ITSELF A HIGHER
ORDER SMARTNESS.
A NEW SORT OF
COGNITIVE SYSTEM.
AND IT JUST AS EASILY
SUCCUMBS TO ARROGANCE
AND DISCONNECTION.
AND YET, EVEN THIS
ISN'T QUITE RIGHT.
RATHER THE SECOND ORDER
DOMINATION SUCCUMBS IN A
MUCH MORE PERNICIOUS
WAY BECAUSE IT DOES NOT
RECOGNIZE ITS ON
PARTICIPATION IN THAT WHICH
IT SEEKS TO DOMINATE
THROUGH CRITICISM.
THIS, IN TURN, LEADS TO
THE NEED FOR THIRD ORDER
SMARTNESS OF THE
ADORNOESQUE KIND, WHICH
SUCCUMBS AGAIN
AT A NEW LEVEL.
AND SO ON AND SO ON.
WE MIGHT EVEN CALL
THIS ADORNO'S LADDER.
THESE ESCALATING
DIFFICULTIES, POSSIBLY
INFINITE REGRESSES OF THE
CRITICAL ATTITUDE, LEAD, IN
TURN, TO THE THIRD PRONG
OF THE COMPLEXITY THAT I'M
TRYING TO UNDERSTAND HERE.
WHICH, IN A SENSE, MERELY
RETURNS US TO AN ASPECT OF
THE FIRST ONE.
ONE WAY OF CHARACTERIZING
INTELLECTUALS BASED ON WHAT
I'VE SAID SO FAR, IS THEY
TRY TO BE SMART ABOUT BEING
SMART ABOUT SMARTNESS.
AND YET BECAUSE SOME OF US
GET TO BE PAID TO BE SMART
FULL-TIME, WHETHER WE DO IT
IN A SELF-REFLEXIVE WAY OR
NOT, WE BEGIN TO BELIEVE
THAT WE CAN BE THE ONLY
SMART ONES.
THIS TYPICALLY REINFORCES
THE ELITISM AND
CONDESCENSION THAT
OUTSIDERS VIEW WITH SUCH
DISTASTE, AND WHICH MAKE
THEM INCLINED, IF THEY ARE
ABLE, TO TAKE OUR
TOYS AWAY FROM US.
REALLY, WHEN YOU THINK
ABOUT IT, UNDER FUNDING OF
UNIVERSITIES IS JUSTIFIED ON
THE BASIS OF THEIR IRRELEVANCE.
BUT JUST AS OFTEN, IT'S
JUSTIFIED ON THE UNSPOKEN
RESENTMENT AND HOSTILITY
THAT MANY PEOPLE FEEL
TOWARDS INTELLECTUAL LIFE.
BUT UNFORTUNATELY, THE FLIP
SIDE OF THIS HOSTILITY FROM
WITHOUT THE INSTITUTION IS
NOT RENEWED INTELLECTUAL
ENERGY WITHIN UNIVERSITIES,
BUT INSTEAD, MORE AND MORE
RIGID SPECIALIZATION, AND I
WOULD ARGUE, THE EVENTUAL
OSSIFICATION OF THE
TRADITIONAL DISCIPLINES.
PARTLY THIS IS
DEFENCE MECHANISM.
PARTLY IT'S SIMPLY THE
CONSERVATIVE NATURE OF
ANY INSTITUTION.
INSTITUTIONS TEND TO
DISCOURAGE ECCENTRICITY THAT
IS NOT DOMESTICATED, AND
THEY WORK TO REPRODUCE
THEMSELVES IN
THEIR OWN IMAGE.
MY OWN DEPARTMENT CHAIR
LIKES TO DESCRIBE OUR
UNIVERSITY CULTURE AS A
LARGE VERSION OF THE ARCADE
GAME WHACK-A-MOLE.
IN WHICH THE OBJECT IS TO
BAT DOWN AS QUICKLY AS
POSSIBLE ANY HEADS THAT RISE
TO A LEVEL ABOVE THEIR FELLOWS.

[laughter]

Mark continues THIS TENDS TO KEEP
INSTITUTIONS CONSERVATIVE.
THERE IS ALSO WHAT WE
MIGHT AGREE TO CALL THE
NECROMANTIC TEMPTATION
OF SCHOLARLY DISCOURSE.
THE WAY THAT EVER MORE ARCANE
AND DIFFICULT THEORETICAL
KNOWLEDGE IS USED TO
INTIMIDATE AND OFTEN EXCLUDE
THOSE WHO DON'T
ALREADY POSSESS IT.
FROM THIS VANTAGE POINT,
GRADUATE SCHOOL IS NOTHING
OTHER THAN AN EXTENDED
INITIATION INTO A MAGICAL
CIRCLE OF ADEPTS WHO CAN
COMMAND THE SYMBOLS OF
THEORY'S MAGIC.
BUT IN ADDITION TO THESE
LONGSTANDING AND WELL WORKED
OVER DANGERS OF
PROFESSIONALIZATION IN
INTELLECTUAL LIFE, THERE IS
THE WAY WE TEND TO INTERNALIZE
THE EXTERNAL PRESSURE
TO DEMONSTRATE RELEVANCE.
AND I THINK THIS IS, IN SOME
WAYS, A SUBTLER AND MORE
PERNICIOUS FORM
OF LOSING OUR WAY.
MY OWN DISCIPLINE OF
PHILOSOPHY, FOR EXAMPLE, IS
PRESUMPTIVELY DEDICATED TO
QUESTIONS WHICH BY THEIR
NATURE HAVE NO
FINAL ANSWERS.
THEY ARE NOT PROBLEMS
TO BE SOLVED.
AND WHATEVER ELSE YOU CAN
SAY ABOUT THEM, THAT KIND
OF PROBLEM SOLVING
SMARTNESS, IF IT WERE THE
ONLY KIND OF ENGAGEMENT WE
HAD WITH THOSE QUESTIONS,
WOULD BE UNWORTHY
OF OUR ATTENTION.
AND YET, THE DEMANDS OF
PERVASIVE INSTRUMENTALITY
SEE VALUE ONLY IN
SOLVED PROBLEMS.
NOT IN WHAT I WOULD CALL
MORE SUBTLY ARTICULATED
UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS.
THIS DOMINANCE OF USE VALUE
INFECTS ALL ASPECTS OF
INTELLECTUAL ENDEAVOR,
ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE
CONDUCTED UNDER
INSTITUTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES.
WE ARE CONSTANTLY BEING MADE
TO ASK WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
WHAT USE IS IT?
BUT AS ARISTOTLE ONCE SAID
WE NEED ALWAYS, ALSO TO ASK
WHAT IS THE USE OF USE?
AND IF INSTEAD OF ASKING
THIS QUESTION OF OURSELVES
AND OUR STUDENTS, WE FALL
INTO THE MEALY MOUTHED
INSTRUMENTAL JUSTIFICATIONS
FOR OUR UNDERTAKINGS,
IN PHILOSOPHY, FOR EXAMPLE,
WE'RE ENCOURAGED TO TELL
STUDENTS THAT THE SUBJECT
IS GOOD PREPARATION FOR A
CAREER IN LAW OR BUSINESS,
THEN WE GRANT VICTORY
BEFORE THE FACT TO THIS
EXTERNAL SCALE OF VALUE.
RESPONDING TO THE UNCRITICAL
DEMAND FOR RELEVANCE, IN
OTHER WORDS, CAN BECOME A
FORM OF SELF-CENSORSHIP.
PRIORITIES OF URGENCY ARE
ESTABLISHED, ADORNO NOTES,
OF THE WORLD AT LARGE.
IT'S ALL ABOUT PRIORITIZING.
BUT TO DEPRIVE THOUGHT OF
THE MOMENT OF SPONTANEITY,
IS TO ANNUL PRECISELY
ITS NECESSITY.
THOUGHT CANNOT BE BROUGHT
UNDER THE YOKE OF PRIORITIES
OF URGENCY.
THIS IS WHAT ADORNO CALLS
THE CULT OF THE IMPORTANT.
NOW, IF I WERE TO ADVOCATE
DEPROGRAMMING OF THIS CULT,
WHICH I WOULD, THAT IS NOT
TO SAY THAT NO FORM OR
MANNER OF RELEVANCE IS
POSSIBLE OR DESIRABLE.
ONLY THAT RELEVANCE MUST
BE SOUGHT AND GIVEN ON
THOUGHT'S OWN TERMS.
"THE SELF-CRITICISM OF REASON
IS ITS TRUEST MORALITY,"
ADORNO LIKES TO SAY.
IMPLYING THE NECESSARY
IMMERSION AND INTRICACY OF
ALL GENUINE
INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITY.
ITS VALUES CANNOT BE
IMPORTED OR IMPOSED
FROM ELSEWHERE.
IF THEY ARE, THEN WE WHO
PERFORM THESE ACTIVITIES RUN
THE RISK OF BECOMING SECOND
RATE, QUASI-SCIENTIFIC
ADJUNCTS TO A LARGER PROJECT
OF UNDERSTANDING THE WORLD
BY SOLVING ALL
ITS PROBLEMS.
AND THAT CAPITULATION WOULD
LEAD, IN TURN, TO A CURIOUS
SITUATION, ONE WHICH IS
CREEPING QUICKLY UPON US,
IN WHICH THE FIELD OF
INTELLECTUAL LIFE IS CLEARED
FOR SOME PERHAPS SURPRISING
FIGURES TO TAKE OVER.
DESPITE LAMENTS LIKE THOSE
OFFERS RECENTLY IN THE
NATION BY A DISTINGUISHED
PANEL OF PUBLIC
INTELLECTUALS, INCLUDING
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS,
RUSSELL JACOBY AND STEPHEN
CARTER, THE PUBLIC
INTELLECTUAL HAS NOT
DISAPPEARED OR DIED.
THE SITUATION IS
ACTUALLY FAR MORE DIRE.
NOWADAYS, EVERYONE IS
A PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL.
A RECENT ISSUE OF
THE
NATIONAL POST
BUSINESS
MAGAZINE, FOR EXAMPLE,
FEATURED A COVER STORY ON
JOSEF STRAUSS, THE NEW
CEO OF JDS UNIPHASE, THE
FIBEROPTIC COMPANY.
ON THE COVER OF THE MAGAZINE
HE WAS DESCRIBED AS AN
ECCENTRIC ICON.
A RESTLESS INTELLECTUAL
AND DISRUPTIVE THINKER.
WHEN YOU TURNED INSIDE TO
THE ARTICLE, IT TURNED OUT
THAT HIS DISRUPTIVE
THOUGHTS AND INTELLECTUAL
ACTIVITY MOSTLY INVOLVE
AGGRESSIVE ACQUISITION OF
FAILING DOT-COM COMPANIES.
MATTHEW BARRETT, THE
ERSTWHILE HEAD OF THE BANK
OF MONTREAL IS ANOTHER
FAMOUS INTELLECTUAL OF OUR DAY.
MAYBE A LITTLE MORE
DEFENSIBLY, DESIGNERS
AND ARCHITECTS LIKE BRUCE
MAU, OR FRANK GEHRY, ARE
NOW INTELLECTUALS.
COLUMNISTS AND TELEVISION
PRESENTERS PARADE ACROSS OUR
PAPERS AND SCREENS AS
INTELLECTUALS, EXPLAINING
THE EVENTS OF THE DAY IN THE
SMOOTH PHRASES OF PUNDITRY.
SO MANY INTELLECTUALS.
THIS IS EVEN AS, WEIRDLY
ENOUGH, THE CULTURE AT LARGE
CONTINUES TO BE, AT LEAST ON
THE SURFACE, HOSTILE TO THE
VERY IDEA OF
INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITY.
I THINK THIS DUALITY
SUGGESTS, NOT THAT THESE
PEOPLE ARE INTELLECTUALS,
BUT THAT THE VERY NOTION OF
WHAT COUNTS AS AN
INTELLECTUAL HAS BEEN
ENTIRELY EMASCULATED.
IT CAN EVEN GET MORE
SUBTLE THAN THAT.
NAOMI KLEIN HAS RECENTLY
ARGUED IN HER BOOK
NO LOGO
THAT CONSUMER
BRANDS, WHICH FUNCTION
ALMOST INDEPENDENTLY OF THE
PRODUCTS THEY ARE USED TO
SELL, ARE THE NEW
CELEBRITIES OF OUR CULTURE.
THEY ARE TRACKED AND
DISCUSSED AFTER THE MANNER
OF SPORTS HEROES, OR
RECKLESS MINOR ROYALS.
BUT I WOULD GO FURTHER.
I THINK THEY ARE ALSO,
BY THE SAME TOKEN, NEW
PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS.
APPROPRIATING FORMERLY
ROBUST AND INDEPENDENT IDEAS
AS PART OF THEIR NARRATIVES
OF COMMERCIAL SUCCESS.
FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW,
IKEA MEANS DEMOCRACY.
STARBUCKS MEANS COMMUNITY.
NIKE MEANS TRANSCENDENCE.
IBM MEANS COMMUNICATION.
3M MEANS INNOVATION.
IF I HAD LEFT THOSE BLANK,
I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT ANY OF
YOU WOULD HAVE TROUBLE
FILLING THEM IN.
NOW, THIS IS NOT REALLY NEW,
THIS KIND OF APPROPRIATION
OF IDEAS INTO THE
MARKETPLACE, BUT I THINK
IT'S SPIRALED INTO THE
STRATOSPHERE IN THE LAST
15 YEARS.
A FEW OF US ARE OLD ENOUGH
TO REMEMBER, OR IF NOT THAT
TO HAVE SEEN IN DON
DELILLO'S NOVEL
UNDERWORLD
THAT DUPONT LONG AGO
PROMISED BETTER LIVING
THROUGH CHEMISTRY.
AND COKE DIDN'T JUST ADD
LIFE OR OFFER THE REAL
THING, IT ALSO MADE THE
WORLD SING AND RECONCILED
YOUTHFUL ENERGY WITH
PEACE AND HARMONY.
NAME A SINGLE UNIVERSITY
PROFESSOR WHO COULD HOPE TO
DO AS MUCH.
THESE DEVELOPMENTS HAVE ONLY
A LITTLE TO DO, I THINK,
WITH THE DEFECTION OF
CERTAIN CULTURAL STUDIES
GRADUATES TO THE WORLDS OF
ADVERTISING AND MARKETING MUCH
LAMENTED ACT OF TREASON TO
THE INTELLECTUAL PROJECT.
IN FACT, I DON'T THINK WE
SHOULD BEGRUDGE THESE PEOPLE
THEIR CHOICES.
THEY CAN, AFTER ALL, MAKE
FAR MORE, AND LIVE FAR
BETTER, SPEAKING OF BETTER
LIVING, THAN REVEALING THE
SAME SECRETS ABOUT THE WAY
THE CULTURE WORKS TO AN
AUDIENCE OF STUDENTS EVEN
POORER THAN THEMSELVES.
BUT OF FAR GREATER
IMPORTANCE IS THE FACT THAT
INTELLECTUALS AND ARTISTS
AND TEACHERS AND WRITERS OF
VARIOUS KINDS, HAVE ALLOWED
THIS PROCESS TO HAPPEN BY
FAILING TO MAKE
IDEAS INTERESTING IN
NON-COMMERCIAL TERMS.
THAT, AFTER ALL, IS
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE
INTELLECTUALS' OPPOSITIONAL
RESPONSIBILITIES.
IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO ENGAGE IN
CRITIQUE FOR YOUR OWN PURPOSES.
CRITIQUE CANNOT BE
AN END IN ITSELF.
IT MUST, I BELIEVE, ISSUE IN
COMPELLING THOUGHT AND ACTION.
I THINK, FURTHERMORE, WE'VE
RETREATED FROM OUR OWN
CULTURAL RESPONSIBILITIES.
AND THE RESULT IS NOT THAT
THERE ARE NO INTELLECTUALS,
BUT THERE ARE NO TRULY
EMANCIPATORY IDEAS BECAUSE
THESE SHAM INTELLECTUALS
HAVE TAKEN THEM AWAY FROM US.
IF THIS PROCESS IS ALLOWED
TO CONTINUE, IT MAY MEAN
THAT WE HAVE NO CULTURE
OTHER THAN COMMERCIAL CULTURE.
IN FACT, SOME WOULD SAY WE
ARE ALREADY IN THAT POSITION.
AND WHEN THAT IS TRUE, OUR
SELF-DEFEAT WILL BE COMPLETE.
WELL, AT THIS POINT YOU MAY WELL
BE WONDERING WHAT'S MY AGENDA?
HOW DOES THE PRESENT
INTERVENTION FIT INTO THE
FIELD I'M SEEKING
TO DESCRIBE?
WHAT INTELLECTUAL STATUS
DOES THIS LECTURE HAVE?
AM I, IN OTHER WORDS,
MERELY BEING SMART ABOUT
BEING SMART ABOUT BEING
SMART ABOUT SMARTNESS?
AM I SEEKING TO DOMINATE
THOSE WHO SEEK TO
DOMINATE DOMINATION?
WELL, LET ME ATTEMPT TO ANSWER
THOSE QUESTIONS BY PROBING
FOR A MOMENT MY OWN
REPRESENTATIONS AS
AN INTELLECTUAL.
SAID NOTES IN HIS STUDY THAT
REPRESENTATION CAN MEAN,
VARIOUSLY, INTERVENING,
BEING PRESENT, SPEAKING
FOR, APPEARING AS, AND
SEEING ONESELF AS.
HE MISSED ONE FURTHER
MEANING, PROBABLY BECAUSE
HE'S TOO OLD, REPRESENT CAN
ALSO MEAN IN CONTEMPORARY
STREET SLANG, TO BE
STRONG AND COMMITTED.
TO RISE TO THE CHALLENGE.
YOU KNOW WHAT I'M
TALKING ABOUT.

[laughter]

Mark continues IN ADDITION TO ALL OF THESE,
IF WE ACCEPT BAUDRILLARD'S
WARNING ABOUT THE SIMULACRAL
TENDENCIES OF POST-MODERN
CULTURE, WE HAVE TO ADD A
NEW LEVEL OF CAUTION ABOUT
THE VERY IDEA OF
REPRESENTATION.
THOSE THINGS WE CALL
REPRESENTATIONS ARE NOT
ACTUALLY RE-PRESENTATIONS OF
SOME AUTHENTIC ORIGINAL AT
ALL, BUT INSTEAD,
PROLIFERATING IN
INTERRELATED TOKENS WITH
NO ORIGINARY TYPE STANDING
BEHIND THEM AND
GIVING THEM POINT.
I HAVE TO SAY THAT TO
PROVE I CAN TALK THAT WAY.
REPRESENT CAN ALSO SIMPLY
MEAN THE DANGER OF
SUCCUMBING TO THE ECONOMIC
WORLD'S IMPERATIVES OF
INTERCHANGEABILITY, SPEED,
PRODUCTION, AND ADVERTISING.
AN AGENT, AFTER ALL,
REPRESENTS YOU.
AN AGENT, AFTER
ALL, SELLS YOU.
ADORNO'S ADVICE TO
INTELLECTUALS, LET NO ONE
REPRESENT YOU.
NOW, MY SUGGESTION TODAY IS
THAT ALL THESE MEANINGS OF
REPRESENT ARE COMPRESSED,
SOMETIMES CONFUSINGLY, WHEN
ONE'S INTELLECTUAL WORK
SPILLS OUTSIDE THE CONFINES
OF AN INSTITUTION
LIKE THE UNIVERSITY.
THIS IS NOT REALLY AN ISSUE
OF ONE'S PRIMARY SOURCE OF
INCOME, HOWEVER.
MANY INDEPENDENT THINKERS
HAD NO FONDNESS FOR
ACADEMICS, AND YET IF
ANYTHING, THEY CAN MAINTAIN
AN ATTITUDE OF EVEN MORE
AGGRESSIVE ALOOFNESS THAN
THE ACADEMICS TYPICALLY DO.
THE ISSUE ISN'T WHO PAYS
YOUR SALARY, THE REAL ISSUE
IS HOW YOU ADDRESS YOURSELF
TO THE CULTURE, AND WHAT TO
DO ABOUT THE DANGERS
LURKING WITHIN THAT ATTEMPT.
IF ONE APPEARS ON TELEVISION
TO TAKE A WELL WORN
EXAMPLE, IT'S WELL TO
REMEMBER THAT INORDINATE
ATTENTION WILL BE GIVEN TO
ONE'S PERSONAL APPEARANCE
AND CLOTHING.
AND IF ONE CONTINUES TO HAVE
A PRESENCE IN THAT WEIRDLY
VISUAL MEDIUM OVER TIME...
MCLUHAN, BY THE WAY, SAID
THAT TELEVISION ISN'T ACTUALLY
A VISUAL MEDIUM, IT'S A
TACTILE MEDIUM.
WE LOWER OURSELVES INTO IT
LIKE WE GET INTO A WARM BATH.
BUT IF ONE CONTINUES TO
APPEAR ON TELEVISION OVER
TIME, CHANGES IN HAIRSTYLE
OR FASHION SENSE MAY BECOME
MATTERS OF DISCUSSION.
AT LEAST AMONG PEOPLE WITH
NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT
TO DISCUSS.
SOON ENOUGH, I CAN SPEAK
FROM EXPERIENCE, ONE'S
PARTY GOING HABITS,
COCKTAIL PREFERENCES, AND
SEXUAL ORIENTATION MAY
BECOME FODDER FOR GOSSIP.
THIS IS, PERHAPS, SURPRISING
OR ODD, BUT IT IS HARDLY NEWS.
NO, THE REAL QUESTION IS
HOW DOES ONE NEGOTIATE THAT
KNOWLEDGE IF ONE
IS INTERESTED IN
INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT?
THESE FACTS CANNOT BE
IGNORED SIMPLY BECAUSE THAT IS
A RESPONSE.
AND CONTRARY TO MUCH
COSTLESS WISDOM GIVEN BY
PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T DONE
IT, THESE FACTS CANNOT BE
MANAGED EASILY.
A MEDIA-SATURATED CULTURE,
IN OTHER WORDS, IS ALWAYS
TRICKIER TO NAVIGATE THAN IT
SEEMS TO THOSE WHO HAVE NOT
TRIED TO DO SO.
AND I THINK IT ADDS A NEW
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY TO THE
VERY IDEA OF
INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT.
NOW, THIS IS NOT THE PLACE
TO REHEARSE ARGUMENTS ABOUT
WHETHER OR NOT INTELLECTUALS
SHOULD APPEAR ON TELEVISION.
I MADE THAT ARGUMENT MYSELF
IN OTHER PLACES, SO HAVE
MANY OTHER PEOPLE.
I'M INTERESTED, INSTEAD,
TODAY, IN WHAT THIS
CHALLENGE SAYS ABOUT HOW
INTELLECTUALS FIT INTO
EVERYDAY LIFE, ESPECIALLY
THE EVERYDAY LIFE THAT'S
DOMINATED BY MASS
MEDIA AND MASS CULTURE.
IN OTHER WORDS, THE
EVERYDAY LIFE OF JUST
ABOUT EVERYBODY.
MOST OF US ARE FAMILIAR WITH
THE FIGURE OF, IF NOT THE
LABEL FOR, WHAT PIERRE
BOURDIEU FELICITOUSLY CALLED
LE FAST THINKER, OR
THE PROFESSIONAL PUNDIT.
SOME OF US ARE FAMILIAR,
FURTHERMORE, WITH THE
CHALLENGE OF WHETHER
OR NOT TO BECOME ONE.
AND HERE, AT THE RISK OF
APPEARING SELF-AGGRANDIZING,
THOUGH I WILL REPUDIATE THAT
APPEARANCE, I'M GOING TO
CONSIDER MY OWN CASE AS A
SMALL SCALE EXAMPLE OF THIS
LARGER ISSUE.
SO FOR THE RECORD, I HAVE
BEEN CALLED THE FOLLOWING
THINGS OVER THE
PAST FIVE YEARS.
THIS IS A SUBSET OF ALL THE
THINGS I'VE BEEN CALLED
OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS,
BUT THE RELEVANT SUBSET.
I'VE BEEN CALLED A
POPULARIZER, A POP
PHILOSOPHER, A HIP
PHILOSOPHER, A CELEBRITY
PHILOSOPHER, A MADE FOR TV
PHILOSOPHER, A PHILOSOPHER
JOURNALIST.
A PHILOSOPHER.

[laughter]

Mark continues NOT A PHILOSOPHER AT ALL.
A ROCK AND ROLL PHILOSOPHER.
A FASHION PLATE PHILOSOPHER.
A GENDER NOT.
A PUNDIT.
A PHILOSOPHO-PUNDIT.
A PUNDIT-DU-JOUR.
A TALKING HEAD, OF
COURSE, HOW BORING.
A MEDIA KING.
A MEDIA MASTER.
A MEDIA SLUT.
A MEDIA WHORE.
A SWINGER.
THAT, YOU KNOW...

[laughter]

Mark continues AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST,
A UBIQUITOUS BORE.
THAT LAST ONE IS COURTESY OF
FRANK MAGAZINE, OF COURSE.
AND IT LED SOME OF MY
FRIENDS TO A DECISION TO
SHORTEN THE DESCRIPTION
TO UB, AS IN UB KINGWELL.
SO THEY WOULD SPEAK
OF ME THAT WAY.
UB KINGWELL IS COMING
OVER FOR DINNER TONIGHT.
MEETING UB
KINGWELL LATER ON.
AND IN WHAT WAS TO ME AN
EXTRAORDINARY DEVELOPMENT,
LAST YEAR AN ONLINE PUBLICATION
CALLED
GOOD MAGAZINE, DEVOTED
A WEEK OF ENTRIES TO
PARODIES OF MY LIFE.
INCLUDING ONE WHERE I QUIT
PHILOSOPHY IN ORDER TO
BECOME A CANADA
POST LETTER CARRIER.

[laughter]

Mark continues ANOTHER IN WHICH I BECAME
PART OF THE CAST OF
LAW AND ORDER.
AND A THIRD WHERE I WAS THE
OBJECT OF SECRET IMPROPER
ADVANCES KNOWN AS PALMING.
AND I'LL LEAVE THAT
TO YOUR IMAGINATION.
NOW, I MENTION ALL THIS
PURELY IN THE SPIRIT
OF INVESTIGATION.
AND I'M CERTAINLY NOT
COMPLAINING ABOUT THE ATTENTION.
PEOPLE OFTEN THINK THAT ONE
IS WHEN ONE MENTIONS THIS, NO.
TO ME, PERSONALLY, THESE
DEVELOPMENTS ARE FUNNY AND
STRANGE AND OF COURSE
ODDLY FLATTERING.
AND TO BE SURE, I HAVE
INVITED CERTAIN KINDS OF
RESPONSES, IF ONLY IN THE
SENSE OF BEING SOMEONE WHOSE
INTELLECTUAL OPINIONS
HAVE BEEN QUOTED ON
TELEVISION, WHO IS
INTERESTED IN PURSUING THAT
FORM OF ENGAGEMENT.
THE REAL ISSUE HERE IS WHAT
THESE REACTIONS SAY ABOUT
HOW INTELLECTUAL
INTERVENTIONS ARE HANDLED
BY LARGER CULTURAL FORCES.
AND THAT'S THE FINAL POINT
I WANT TO RAISE HERE.
AND ON THAT SCORE, IT SEEMS
TO ME THERE IS EVIDENT HERE
A STRONG STAKE IN REDUCING
OR DEFLECTING THE DEEP
POSSIBILITIES OF CRITIQUE.
THE JUDGMENT THAT AN
INTELLECTUAL IS MERELY A
PUNDIT OR A CELEBRITY, OR
BY THE SAME TOKEN THAT A
BUSINESSMAN IS AN
INTELLECTUAL, IS PART OF A
LARGER IDEOLOGICAL PROJECT
OF NOT TAKING INTELLECTUAL
WORK SERIOUSLY.
IT IS THAT PECULIAR THING,
ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM
MASQUERADING AS CULTURAL
SOPHISTICATION.
IN FACT, I WOULD
GO EVEN FURTHER.
THESE REACTIONS BETRAY AN
ANXIETY ABOUT THE POSSIBLE
CHALLENGE THAT IN THIS CASE
PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTION
POSES TO THE ASSUMPTIONS
OF EVERYDAY LIFE.
THERE IS A NEED HERE, AN
OVERWHELMING DESIRE TO
BELITTLE AND SO APPARENTLY
DEFEAT THE VERY IDEA OF
INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGE.
IN THE OLD DAYS, THIS KIND
OF RESPONSE WOULD HAVE
BEEN SIMPLER.
THE INTELLECTUAL WOULD HAVE
BEEN DEFEATED MERELY BY
RIDICULING HIS OR HER
OTHER WORLDLINESS.
HIS OR HER IVORY
TOWER STATUS.
AND OF COURSE THAT
STILL GOES ON.
IT STARTED IN THE WAY THE
ATHENIANS HANDLED SOCRATES,
ARGUABLY, AND IT HAPPENS
OFTEN ENOUGH TODAY.
BUT IF AN INTELLECTUAL IS
NOT OTHER WORLDLY IN THIS
SENSE, AND SO CAN'T
BE DEFEATED THAT WAY.
IF HE OR SHE SPEAKS IN
ACTUAL SENTENCES, AND CAN
DRESS LIKE A
NORMAL HUMAN BEING.
IF HE OR SHE IS COMFORTABLE
SPEAKING OF TELEVISION AND
FASHION, AS WELL AS ON
TELEVISION SPEAKING OF
POPULAR MUSIC, SPEAKING OF
FILMS AND RECORDS, AS WELL
AS OF ARISTOTLE OR HABERMAS
OR WITTGENSTEIN, THEN THAT
KIND OF INTELLECTUAL
NEEDS TO BE ATTACKED
IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
THAT KIND OF INTELLECTUAL
MUST BE DEGRADED TO THE
STATUS OF BARE PERSONALITY
AND THEN ELIMINATED.
THIS ATTACK, HAS, I
BELIEVE, TWO FRONTS.
ONE IS THE IMPLIED REDUCTION
OF ALL CLAIMS, WHATEVER THEIR
NATURE OR COGENCY, TO INSTANCES
OF PERSONAL AGGRANDIZEMENT.
THIS MAKES EVERYTHING
INTO PUNDITRY.
AND IT EFFECTIVELY DEFANGS
INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGE BY
MAKING IT HAVE THE SAME FLAT
STATUS AS ANY OTHER CLAIM
OR POSITION THAT'S MADE
IN THE MEDIA SCAPE.
ALL LOCUTIONS ARE EQUAL.
THE OTHER FRONT OF THE
ATTACK INVOLVES THE
SNEAKIER, AND I THINK
MORE CYNICAL TACTIC OF
DENIGRATING ANY AND ALL
PUBLIC INTERVENTIONS NOT IN
THE NAME OF THE PUBLIC, BUT
IN THE NAME OF TRADITIONAL
INTELLECTUAL STANDARDS,
WHATEVER THEY MAY BE.
THEY ARE USUALLY THOSE
OF THE CYNIC'S IMAGINED
ACADEMIC PAST,
IN MY EXPERIENCE.
THIS, IN EFFECT, TRIES TO MAKE
THE PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL
A TRAITOR TO HIS OR HER
OWN COMMITMENTS FOR HAVING
THE TEMERITY TO VENTURE
OUTSIDE THE PROPER SPHERE
OF INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITY.
NOW, IT'S NEVER EASY TO KNOW
HOW TO DEAL WITH PRESSURES
LIKE THIS, BUT WHAT I WANT
TO SUGGEST IN CONCLUSION,
THAT THESE PRESSURES ARE
REALLY JUST INSTANCES OF
THE GENERAL CHALLENGE
INTELLECTUALS NOW FACE
IN EVERYDAY LIFE.
I SAID NEAR THE BEGINNING
THAT I WANTED TO
DESTABILIZE INTELLECTUAL
SELF-CONGRATULATION ABOUT
BEING SUPERIOR TO CULTURE.
THIS IS ESSENTIAL BECAUSE
SUPERIORITY SIMPLY WILL NOT
SERVE US ANYMORE.
FOR ONE THING, IT IS MOST
OFTEN THE QUICK ROUTE TO A
SELF-NULLIFYING OBSCURITY
TO A KIND OF HIGHER
ORDER CRANKINESS.
THAT MAY BE A COMFORTABLE
OPTION FOR SOME, BUT I THINK
IT'S A FAILURE OF
INTELLECTUAL DUTY.
REALIZING THAT, HOWEVER, ONE
MIGHT BE TEMPTED SIMPLY TO
GO IN THE OTHER DIRECTION,
FLEE TO THE OTHER EXTREME,
AND EMBRACE THE DOMINANT
CULTURE WITH GUSTO,
BECOMING A DEDICATED
CELEBRANT OF IT.
BUT THAT, TOO, IS A FAILURE
OF DUTY BECAUSE IT ABANDONS
THE POSSIBILITY OF
SEARCHING CRITIQUE OF
DOMINANT VALUES, WHICH IS
ALONE THE JUSTIFICATION OF
OUR EXISTENCE AS
INTELLECTUALS.
INSTEAD, ONE HAS A MUCH
HARDER COURSE TO PURSUE,
WHICH IS TO ACCEPT THE
ONGOING INSTABILITY OF
ANYONE'S PLACE WITHIN A
REDUCTIVE, SPEEDY, UNJUST,
AND MEDIA-DRIVEN WORLD. "THERE
IS NO WAY OUT OF ENTANGLEMENT,"
ADORNO REMINDS US.
"THE ONLY RESPONSIBLE COURSE
IS TO DENY ONESELF THE
IDEOLOGICAL MISUSE OF
ONE'S OWN EXISTENCE."
WELL, THAT'S NEVER EASY.
AND WE MAY DISPUTE WITH
OURSELVES AND OTHERS WHAT
FOLLOWS FROM THAT EVER
PRESENCE OF ENTANGLEMENT.
ADORNO HIMSELF,
DELIBERATELY, APPARENTLY
DELIBERATELY, VACILLATES
BETWEEN ENGAGEMENT AND
DETACHMENT, IRONY AND
PASSION, BUT I THINK IT
MEANS, ABOVE ALL, BEING
ALWAYS OPPOSITIONAL AND
MARGINAL WITHOUT
BEING MARGINALIZED.
IT MEANS USING THE AVAILABLE
MEANS OF COMMUNICATION,
WHATEVER THEY ARE, EVEN
WHILE KNOWING THE GRAVE
RISKS INVOLVED.
TRYING, PERHAPS, WITH ONLY
LIMITED SUCCESS, TO SAY
SOMETHING ROUGH AND
UNSETTLING ON AIRWAVES AND
IN PAGES THAT ARE TOO OFTEN
DOMINATED BY EVERYONE
SAYING THE SAME THING.
IT MAY MEAN, MORE
PERSONALLY, CREATING A KIND
OF ALIEN FIGURE IN
THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE.
SOMEBODY WHO UPSETS THE
EXISTING CATEGORIES OF
JUDGMENT IF ONLY SLIGHTLY.
IT MEANS BEING
UNPREDICTABLE, IRONIC,
SATIRICAL, PLAYFUL
AND PRICKLY.
IS THIS MERELY SUBVERSION
FOR ITS OWN SAKE?
JUST ANOTHER PECULIAR FORM
OF CULTURAL POSTURING?
I HOPE NOT, AND
I DON'T THINK SO.
CRITICISM, AS I SAID BEFORE,
IS ALWAYS A POLITICAL ACT.
AND IN A WORLD INCREASINGLY
DOMINATED BY THE NEO
LIBERAL TRIUMPHALISM
OF GLOBAL CAPITALISM,
CRITICISM BECOMES EVER
MORE OVERTLY POLITICAL.
UNLIKE STANLEY FISH, IN
OTHER WORDS, WHO WOULD
CONDEMN A COMMITMENT TO
PRINCIPLE, ANY PRINCIPLE,
AS JUST ANOTHER FORM OF
GENTEEL SELF-JUSTIFICATION,
I THINK THAT IDEAS CANNOT
BE MEANINGFULLY ADVANCED
WITHOUT SOME BASIC
COMMITMENTS.
CALL THE RESULTING FORMULA
CRITICAL IMMERSION GUIDED BY
THE NORM OF JUSTICE.
AND THE RESULTING CONDITION,
A FORM OF THE EXILE THAT
SAID AND GRAMSCI SAW SO
CLEARLY AS A NECESSARY PART
OF INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT.
THERE MUST BE HERE
COMMITMENT TO PRINCIPLE,
BUT NOT TO SYSTEM.
DEDICATION TO RIGOUR, BUT NOT
TO INSTITUTIONS OR PROFESSIONS.
INTELLECTUAL LIFE IS
NECESSARILY RESTLESS,
DISSATISFIED, CURIOUS
AND SHARP-TONGUED.
BUT IT SHOULD NOT BE BITTER.
IT SHOULD NEVER, ON THE
OTHER SIDE, PANDER.
IT SHOULD PROVOKE AND
ENLIGHTEN, PRICKLE AND TICKLE.
IT SHOULD, ABOVE ALL, BE
DEDICATED TO NO PARTICULAR
GROUP OR BODY, CERTAINLY TO
NO PROFESSIONAL CONSTRAINTS.
THERE IS A PROFESSION OF
PHILOSOPHY, OF COURSE, AND
I AM, IF ANYONE IS,
A MEMBER OF IT.
BUT AS THE PHILOSOPHER
JONATHAN LEAR REMINDS US,
THE IDEA OF A PROFESSION OF
PHILOSOPHY IS ACTUALLY A
CONTRADICTION IN TERMS.
WE CAN PROFESSIONALIZE SOME
ASPECTS OF THE PRACTICE OF
CAREFUL REFLECTION, BUT
THE PROFESSION WILL NEVER
CAPTURE WHAT IS ESSENTIAL TO
THAT PROJECT OF REFLECTION.
IN FACT, IT MIGHT EVEN BE
DANGEROUS TO TRY TOO HARD
TO DO SO.
"WE WANT TO PASS ON
FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS,"
LEAR WRITES.
"BUT IN OUR ATTEMPTS TO DO SO
TRUTH BECOMES RIGID AND DIES.
BECOMES RIGID AND DIES
BECAUSE IT BECOMES
SYSTEMIC, TECHNICAL.
THAT IS ALARMING."
BUT AS LEAR WISELY
CONCLUDES, "THE ONLY REMEDY
TO PHILOSOPHY'S INBUILT
IMPOSSIBILITY IS TO TREAT
THIS AS A COMEDY RATHER
THAN AS A TRAGEDY."
OR I WOULD SAY, I THINK
BETTER, TO TREAT IT AS BOTH
SIMULTANEOUSLY, LIKE
SO MUCH OF HUMAN LIFE.
WE DO WELL, FINALLY, TO
REMEMBER THAT INTELLECTUALS
ARE, AFTER ALL, HUMAN.
DAVID HUME WROTE, "ABSTRUSE
THOUGHT AND PROFOUND
RESEARCHES I PROHIBIT.
AND WILL SEVERELY PUNISH
BY THE PENSIVE MELANCHOLY
WHICH THEY INTRODUCE, BY
THE ENDLESS UNCERTAINTY IN
WHICH THEY INVOLVE YOU, AND
BY THE COLD RECEPTION WHICH
YOUR PRETENDED DISCOVERY SHALL
BE MET WITH WHEN COMMUNICATED.
BE A PHILOSOPHER.
BUT AMIDST ALL YOUR
PHILOSOPHY, BE STILL A MAN."
WELL, AS HE SHOULD HAVE
ADDED, BE STILL A MAN
OR A WOMAN.
AND IF THIS IS TAKEN AS
A WARNING NOT TO GO TO
GRADUATE SCHOOL, CONSIDER
YOURSELVES WARNED.
THANKS VERY MUCH.

[applause]

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Big Ideas, TVONTARIO, Box 200, Station Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M4T 2T1.

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Executive Producer, Doug Grant.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2001, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Mark Kingswell on the Intellectual in Everyday Life