Friday, January 14, 2011

On the dearth of public intellectuals

... poets and novelists have retreated into the self and the writing school, increasingly clueless about how to talk about what’s happening in the world. As I’ve written, after 9/11, the New York Times and the New Yorker asked prominent writers to respond. One said it reminded him of the day his father died; another took an herbal bath and called an old boyfriend; and so on. Only Susan Sontag — and she was reviled for it — could put it into a larger context, but of course Sontag modeled herself on European public intellectuals. -- Eliot Weinberger


See also Pankaj Mishra's recent piece in that NYT "Why Criticism Matters" roundup, from which this:

There is little point in blaming “New Criticism,” which fetishized the uniqueness and autonomy of literary works, or in lashing, yet again, the dead horse of creative writing departments, which prescribe an antihistorical formalism while turning a noble vocation into yet another moneymaking opportunity. For these practices are merely symptoms of a larger phenomenon that, deepening through the cold war, is only more manifest now: mass depoliticization as political and economic arrangements seem depressingly unalterable.

“In our political as in our economic lives,” Tony Judt wrote in “Ill Fares the Land,” a lament for moral idealism and engaged citizenship, “we have become consumers.” A similar docility marks our cultural choices. Most writers as well as readers of literary fiction see it as a refined form of entertainment or instruction.

Here's a glimpse of the reading/consuming "public" -

1 comment:

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


Don’t You See?

Doesn’t anyone see around us
this unnatural lethargy, a nation almost
hypnotized into digital complacency,
the loss of all community?
You look out for you. I’ll look out for me.
It’s as though we all agreed at once
to look away.

Don’t you sense a certain general slow
decrease in energy, some kind of
supernatural invisibility?
And so the greedy and ambitious men,
disengaged from this reality,
after twenty-thousand years still
rule the Earth. Still make a mess.

But if no conflict then no consequence,
no task to overcome, reason to proceed,
no victory or success.
Does no one see this debilitating need,
this desire to run away and hide?
Being handed what you want is not a challenge,
or finding it or stealing or having lied.

So how should we obtain, then,
rise up to take this challenge?
How do those without greed or blind ambition
learn to care for what the greedy need?
How do those without need for dominance
learn to fight and inflict violence?

Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns-New and Corrected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald