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robertogreco : publicintellectuals   5

Vale Umberto Eco | Overland literary journal
"I still consider it his main contribution to our culture: that of demystifying and modernising the role of the intellectual; of making it more accessible, more contemporary, more relevant. He wasn’t a radical like, say, Pier Paolo Pasolini or Michel Foucault, and never viewed himself as part of a struggle, be it political or existential. He never operated outside of the establishment, either, embracing rather a role of international academic superstar that saw him bouncing for two decades between Italy and the United States. Yet he also helped create lasting institutions, like the modern field of semiotics and the university faculty known as DAMS, in Bologna, where one could survey new phenomena such as mass communications and culture through very old means, reaching as far back as the scholastic philosophy of his beloved Thomas Aquinas, and from there further back to Aristotle. At the time when I went to university, in 1990, this was still an almost singular exception in an academia that clung for dear life to its pre-war methods, structures and concerns.

Then, at the age of forty-eight, Eco became a novelist. Later he revealed that he had come to hate The Name of the Rose, which he regarded as his worst work of fiction but, with all due respect, it’s a silly assessment. That first novel, his best, reflects his approach to intellectual work in that it’s a superficially difficult book, delving at length into obscure theological and philosophical questions, that manages nonetheless to be highly enjoyable and readable. Its themes are the same themes that preoccupied him at the time, chiefly the problem of interpretation. I think we are beyond spoiling the plot, but in the simplest of terms, in The Name of the Rose an occasional murderer becomes a serial one in order to fulfil the plot that the detective has come up with in order to explain the original killings: therefore his subsequent murders are effectively inspired by the fervid imagination of the detective. Like his semiotic work Lector in fabula, which he had just finished writing, The Name of the Rose is about the role of the reader in making sense of a text, only in a literal and essentially comic fashion. As Eco explains in the postscript to the second edition, he had been fascinated by an attempt by the French writers of Oulipo to produce a matrix of all possible murder stories, whose conclusion was that they had all been written save perhaps for one in which the murderer was the reader. That was the paradox, or joke, at the root of it all.

Another way of summarising the plot of The Name of the Rose would be that a deranged monk becomes a killer in order to prevent the recovery of the lost last book of Aristotle’s Poetics, the one on comedy. Therefore the novel is another dramatisation of the struggle between apocalyptic and integrated intellectuals, between deadly seriousness and life-giving irony. Foucault’s Pendulum picks up on the same themes, but with a little more of an edge. The fanatic conspiracists at its centre bear a striking resemblance to contemporary flat earthers and 9/11 truthers, and as a result the book still reads very well: Eco’s concern with textual interpretation, if anything, has become more relevant and more political now that everyone writes as well as reading.

I suggested recently in an Overland article that we are all Umberto Eco now, by which I meant that the internet gives everyone an opportunity to be a published – therefore public – intellectual, such as was afforded to Eco for a mainstream national audience only at the height of his career. The inverse of this observation is that Umberto Eco was Umberto Eco first. That is to say, he exhibited the kind of encyclopaedic intellectual interest that is almost a default, standard setting of the current reader/writer, covering the most disparate of topics like a one-man Twitter or Facebook timeline.

This may be why, in spite of neither being a great admirer of his fiction nor a follower of his semiotic theories, over the years I have found myself drawn to Eco time and again. I think it was his voraciousness, that medieval appetite for universal knowledge that is nonetheless truly modern, his prodigious curiosity, and the obvious enjoyment he derived from intellectual work and was able to transmit to the reader. Of some of his work, in the fold of that vast output, I am truly fond. Like his heroic translation into Italian of Raymond Queneau’s devilish Exercices de style (a one-page narrative about a chance encounter on the bus is re-told in ninety-nine different styles); his introduction to the work of one of my favourite writers, Achille Campanile; his recent, inexhaustible book on the passion for lists in Western thought; and above all so many of his columns, too many to count.

There will be many obituaries, and I’d like to conclude this one with a nod to the one he wrote for the great illustrator, designer and author Bruno Manari, with whom he had long worked at Bompiani on technical and other non-fiction work. In this brief piece for a magazine after Munari’s death, in 1998, Eco recalled his friend’s great talent for sketching complex book layouts with a few strokes of the pencil, equal only to his ability to argue and immediately show that any alternative suggestions would simply not work on the page. It was a little lesson on the craft of publishing that obviously stayed with him: he remembered it four decades later, and it has stayed with me for two decades more. Deep thinking about book design is a form of deep thinking about culture, which is also ultimately the sum of all of our crafts. Eco was above all this: a devoted and joyous practitioner of the art of being interested in things."
umbertoeco  giovannitiso  interestedness  2016  obituaries  publishing  bookdesign  books  culture  brunomunari  semiotics  interpretation  intellectuals  thomasaquinas  pierpaolopasolini  michelfoucault  readwriteweb  publicintellectuals  twitter  facebook  socialmedia  web  online  internet  foucault  interested 
february 2016 by robertogreco
bell hooks: Buddhism, the Beats and Loving Blackness - The New York Times
"G.Y.: Absolutely. You’ve talked about how theory can function as a place of healing. Can you say more about that?

b.h.: I always start with children. Most children are amazing critical thinkers before we silence them. I think that theory is essentially a way to make sense of the world; as a gifted child growing up in a dysfunctional family where giftedness was not appreciated, what held me above water was the idea of thinking through, “Why are Mom and Dad the way they are?” And those are questions that are at the heart of critical thinking. And that’s why I think critical thinking and theory can be such a source of healing. It moves us forward. And, of course, I don’t know about other thinkers and writers, but I have the good fortune every day of my life to have somebody contacting me, either on the streets or by mail, telling me about how my work has changed their life, how it has enabled them to go forward. And what greater gift to be had as a thinker-theorist, than that?"

"G.Y.: Is there a connection between teaching as a space of healing and your understanding of love?

b.h.: Well, I believe whole-heartedly that the only way out of domination is love, and the only way into really being able to connect with others, and to know how to be, is to be participating in every aspect of your life as a sacrament of love, and that includes teaching. I don’t do a lot of teaching these days. I am semi-retired. Because, like any act of love, it takes a lot of your energy."

"G.Y.: You’ve conceptualized love as the opposite of estrangement. Can you say something about that?

b.h.: When we engage love as action, you can’t act without connecting. I often think of that phrase, only connect. In terms of white supremacy right now for instance, the police stopped me a few weeks ago here in Berea, because I was doing something wrong. I initially felt fear, and I was thinking about the fact that in all of my 60-some years of my life in this country, I have never felt afraid of policemen before, but I feel afraid now. He was just total sweetness. And yet I thought, what a horrible change in our society that that level of estrangement has taken place that was not there before.

I know that the essential experience of black men and women has always been different, but from the time I was a girl to now, I never thought the police were my enemy. Yet, what black woman witnessing the incredible abuse of Sandra Bland can’t shake in her boots if she’s being stopped by the police? When I was watching that video, I was amazed the police didn’t shoot her on the spot! White supremacist white people are crazy.

I used to talk about patriarchy as a mental illness of disordered desire, but white supremacy is equally a serious and profound mental illness, and it leads people to do completely and utterly insane things. I think one of the things that is going on in our society is the normalization of mental illness, and the normalization of white supremacy, and the evocation and the spreading of this is part of that mental illness. So remember that we are a culture in crisis. Our crisis is as much a spiritual crisis as it is a political crisis, and that’s why Martin Luther King, Jr. was so profoundly prescient in describing how the work of love would be necessary to have a transformative impact.

G.Y.: And of course, that doesn’t mean that you don’t find an important place in your work for rage, as in your book “Killing Rage”?

b.h.: Oh, absolutely. The first time that I got to be with Thich Nhat Hanh, I had just been longing to meet him. I was like, I’m going to meet this incredibly holy man. On the day that I was going to him, every step of the way I felt that I was encountering some kind of racism or sexism. When I got to him, the first thing out of my mouth was, “I am so angry!” And he, of course, Mr. Calm himself, Mr. Peace, said, “Well, you know, hold on to your anger, and use it as compost for your garden.” And I thought, “Yes, yes, I can do that!” I tell that story to people all the time. I was telling him about the struggles I was having with my male partner at the time and he said, “It is O.K. to say I want to kill you, but then you need to step back from that, and remember what brought you to this person in the first place.” And I think that if we think of anger as compost, we think of it as energy that can be recycled in the direction of our good. It is an empowering force. If we don’t think about it that way, it becomes a debilitating and destructive force.

G.Y.: Since you mentioned Sandra Bland, and there are so many other cases that we can mention, how can we use the trauma that black people are experiencing, or reconfigure that trauma into compost? How can black people do that? What does that look like therapeutically, or collectively?

b.h.: We have to be willing to be truthful. And to be truthful, we have to say, the problem that black people face, the trauma of white supremacy in our lives, is not limited to police brutality. That’s just one aspect. I often say that the issue for young black males is the street. If you only have the streets, you encounter violence on all sides: black on black violence, the violence of addiction, and the violence of police brutality. So the question is why at this stage of our history, with so many wealthy black people, and so many gifted black people, how do we provide a place other than the streets for black males? And it is so gendered, because the street, in an imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, is male, especially when it is dark. There is so much feeling of being lost that it is beyond the trauma of racism. It is the trauma of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, because poverty has become infinitely more violent than it ever was when I was a girl. You lived next door to very poor black people, but who had very joyful lives. That’s not the poverty of today.

G.Y.: How is the poverty of today different?

b.h.: Let’s face it, one of the things white people gave us when they gave us integration was full access to the tormenting reality of desire, and the expectation of constant consumption. So part of the difference of poverty today is this sort of world of fantasy — fantasizing that you’ll win the lottery, fantasizing that money will come. I always cling to Lorraine Hansberry’s mama saying in “A in Raisin in the Sun,” “Since when did money become life?” I think that with the poverty of my growing up that I lived with and among, we were always made to feel like money is not what life is all about. That’s the total difference for everyone living right now, because most people in our culture believe money is everything. That is the big tie, the connecting tie to black, white, Hispanic, native people, Asian people — the greed and the materialism that we all invest in and share.

G.Y.: When you make that claim, I can see some readers saying that bell is pathologizing black spaces.

b.h.: As I said, we have normalized mental illness in this society. So it’s not the pathologizing of black spaces; it’s saying that the majority of cultural spaces in our society are infused with pathology. That’s why it’s so hard to get out of it, because it has become the culture that is being fed to us every day. None of us can escape it unless we do so by conscious living and conscious loving, and that’s become harder for everybody. I don’t have a problem stating the fact that trauma creates wounds, and most of our wounds are not healed as African-Americans. We’re not really different in that way from all the others who are wounded. Let’s face it — wounded white people frequently can cover up their wounds, because they have greater access to material power.

I find it fascinating that every day you go to the supermarket, and you look at the people, and you look at us, and you look at all of this media that is parading the sorrows and the mental illnesses of the white rich in our society. And it’s like everybody just skips over that. Nobody would raise the question, “why don’t we pathologize the rich?” We actually believe that they suffer mental illness, and that they deserve healing. The issue for us as black people is that very few people feel that we deserve healing. Which is why we have very few systems that promote healing in our lives. The primary system that ever promoted healing in black people is the church, and we see what is going on in most churches today. They’ve become an extension of that material greed.

G.Y.: As you shared being stopped by police, I thought of your book “Black Looks: Race and Representation,” where you describe whiteness as a site of terror. Has that changed for you?

b.h.: I don’t think that has changed for most black people. That particular essay, “Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination,” talks about whiteness, the black imagination, and how many of us live in fear of whiteness. And I emphasize the story about the policeman because for many of us that fear of whiteness has intensified. I think that white people, for the most part, never think about black people wanting to be in black only spaces, because we do not feel safe.

In my last book, “Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice,” I really wanted to raise and problematize the question: Where do we feel safe as black people? I definitely return to the home as a place of spiritual possibility, home as a holy place.

I bought my current house from a conservative white male capitalist who lives across the street from me, and I’m so happy in my little home. I tell people, when I open the doors of my house it’s like these arms come out, and they’re just embracing me. I think that is part of our radical resistance to the culture of domination. I know that I’m not who he imagined in this little house. He imagined a nice white family with two kids, and I think on some level it was very hard for … [more]
bellhooks  2015  georgeyancy  buddhism  christianity  spirituality  religion  race  class  patriarchy  racism  classism  mentalillness  money  greed  mentalhealth  society  capitalism  consumerism  materialism  domination  power  gender  feminism  idenity  listening  love  humor  martinlutherkingjr  cornelwest  allies  influence  homes  intellectualism  theory  practice  criticalthinking  pedagogy  writing  children  unschooling  deschooling  teaching  howweteach  oedagogy  solitude  workinginpublic  publicintellectuals  narcissism  healing  malcolmx  blackness  whitesupremacy  abandonment  betrayal  anger  masculinity  markmcleodbethune  resistance  safety  whiteness  terror  wealth  imperialism  inequality  pathology  poverty  truth  truthfulness  sandrabland  thichnhathanh  activism  estrangement  everyday  humanism  humanization  humility  grace  change  changemaking  transformation  canon  empowerment  composting  desire  lotteries  lorrainehansberry  araisininthesun  culture  trauma  sorrow  leadership  psychology  self-determination  slow  small  beatpoets  jackkerouac  garysnyder  beatpoetry  ethics 
december 2015 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: Start a Blog - William Deresiewicz
"As Jack Miles puts it in a stellar essay on the question, “It takes years of disciplined preparation to become an academic. It takes years of undisciplined preparation to become an intellectual.”"

"But celebrity, like the institutionalization that comes with being an academic, is inimical to the intellectual’s mission: questioning the mental status quo. The more a part of things you are—the more embedded in the machinery of status and position—the harder that is to do. As Kazin said, “values are our only home in the universe.” Allegiances, to any group, are fatal. The intellectual’s job is to think past the culture: to question the myths, metaphors, and assumptions that limit our collective imagination. The founder of the breed was Socrates. As Kazin also said, an intellectual is someone for whom ideas are “instruments of salvation.” Becoming one requires a little more than setting up a blog."
disruption  status  celebrity  russelljacoby  academics  academia  intellectuals  socrates  deschooling  unschooling  outsiders  thesystem  jackmiles  writing  alfredkazin  haroldrosenberg  clementgreenberg  dwightmacdonald  lioneltrilling  edmundwilson  blogging  publicintellectuals  williamderesiewicz  2012  change  allegiances  outsider 
december 2012 by robertogreco
"The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."

"Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time."

"The role of the intellectual includes communicating. Intellectuals are not just people who know things but people who shape the thoughts of their generation. An intellectual is a synthesizer, a publicist, a communicator. In his 1987 book The Last Intellectuals, the cultural historian Russell Jacoby bemoaned the passing of a generation of public thinkers and their replacement by bloodless academicians. He was right, but also wrong. The third-culture thinkers are the new public intellectuals."
1959  1991  communication  publicintellectuals  intellectuals  russelljacoby  thinking  literature  technology  research  philosophy  science  culture  thirdculture  johnbrockman  cpsnow 
november 2012 by robertogreco
"1. An academic has and wants an audience disproportionately made up of teachers and students, while an intellectual has and wants teachers and students in his audience only in proportion to their place in the general educated public. 2. An academic is a specialist who has disciplined his curiosity to operate largely within a designated area, while an intellectual is a generalist who deliberately does otherwise. 3. An academic is concerned with substance and suspicious of style, while an intellectual is suspicious of any substance that purports to transcend or defy style."

"Tenured faculty, the aristocracy of the university, have been disgracefully complicit in the creation of an academic helot class to subsidize their own upper-middle-class salaries, but the helots are progressively replacing the aristocrats as the latter retire and are replaced by helots rather than by other aristocrats. What is being phased out, in short, is the very career which tenured faculty once enjoyed and to which new Ph.D.s still vainly aspire.(5) This career, although it included teaching, was not narrowly confined to teaching in the way that the work of adjunct faculty is narrowly confined -- indeed brutally reduced -- to teaching. For a while to come, some of the many aspiring professors who enter the academic labor market each year will find tenure-track positions and be awarded tenure in due course. More, however, will fail to obtain tenure or even to be hired for a tenure-track position. Barring a labor movement of unprecedented scope, the less talented among them will then sink into academe's permanent underclass, while the more talented will leave academe and seek other employment."

"To return to my premise, if the role of academics in the preservation and propagation of liberal learning is shrinking as the liberal arts are crowded out of the university curriculum, then either the role of intellectuals -- men and women of humane learning whose gainful occupation is not teaching -- will grow, or the humane tradition will slide further into decline. If and when that compensatory growth comes about, however, there may come with it a number of now only poorly predictable changes.

As academe eliminates the liberal arts, institutions and forms of organization that are now secondary will become primary by academe's default. Peter Drucker does not predict that university libraries, museums, databases, and computer networks will be gone in thirty years when the university as we know it is gone. But if their likely survival throws their importance into relief, it does so as well for kindred institutions that have never been under university auspices at all: endowed research libraries, independent museums of various kinds, and the many voluntary associations and working groups that the Internet already makes possible. Already, a scholar in search of an out-of-the-way, out-of-print book may have better luck with, which offers "nine million used, antiquarian and rare books, periodicals and ephemera offered for sale by thousands of booksellers around the world" than with a local university library, even a large one. Whether or not venture capital invested in online education succeeds in capturing much of the revenue flow that now sustains traditional colleges and universities, the Internet stands ready as a monastery-on-demand for the dark age after the Rome that is the academic establishment has fallen. When Rome fell, the Roman Empire did not vanish. Its separate parts lived on in other forms. So it could be for the campus liberal arts empire: When it falls, it too will not vanish but live on as its separate parts assume other forms.

Academics are farmers. They have fields, and they cultivate their fields well. Intellectuals are hunters. An intellectual does not have a field but a quarry which he pursues across as many fields as necessary, often losing sight of it altogether. Hunters cannot replace farmers, or vice versa; but if liberal learning in America, hitherto mostly a farm culture, becomes progressively a hunt culture, there will surely be consequences. By the standards of farmers, what hunters do seems reckless and undisciplined, but hunting has its own interior logic, the logic of an agenda that is individually rather than collectively determined.

One cannot easily be either a farmer or a professor by avocation. The strength of these vocations is that they demand full commitment. Mirroring their strength, their great vulnerability is their inability effectively to reward and sustain partial commitment. By contrast, one may rather easily be a hunter or an intellectual by avocation. Like hunters, who join the chase when they can and leave it when they must, sharing the kill with the tribe when they are successful, so intellectuals study when they can and stop when they must, seeking ever to please themselves but sharing their intellectual pleasure, when they write, with their readers.

The agricultural revolution did not occur for no reason. Hunters are more likely to go hungry than farmers. If academics, reliably supported by their universities, are succeeded by intellectuals, only unreliably supported by the work they pick up here and there, the post- and extra-academic humanities will often go hungry and homeless. But hunting does not differ from farming only by being more hazardous and less reliable. Off campus, the liberal arts may, at least on occasion, enjoy a wild adventure and an extraordinary feast. Only time will tell -- but less time, if present trends continue, than we might think."
society  learning  education  culture  teaching  gradschool  intellectualism  academia  curiosity  dilettante  cv  generalists  jackmiles  publicintellectuals  labor  capitalism  corporatism  us  policy  helots  liberalarts  intellectuals  1999  highered  highereducation  colleges  universities  inequality  tenure  specialists  humanities 
january 2005 by robertogreco

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