09 February 2005

Cafeteria intelligentsia

Above all else, P&J believed in the educated general public. [...] The thought that you could be both "subversive" and incomprehensible to 90 percent of the audience made them laugh, not quite with joy.

Last Thursday, Scott McLemee at Intellectual Affairs wrote a great piece on intellectual exchange for the common man, and alluded to some insightful questions about the role blogs (may) play in saving us from "literary loneliness" (via The Reading Experience and Conversational Reading):

[T]he cafeteria fostered a style in which the tone of authority had to be assumed with some care. There was always someone nearby, waiting to ambush you with an unfamiliar fact, a sarcastic characterization of your argument, a book he had just carried over from the library with purpose of shutting you up for good, or at least for the rest of the afternoon. ("Now where is it you say Lenin wrote that? It sure isn't here!") You had to think on your feet, to see around the corner of your own argument. And if you were smart, you knew to make a point quickly, cleanly, punching it home.

The very fact that this is increasingly true of the literary blogosphere deflates any quibbling about "egocasting." People here (for the most part) do this because the love of books and ideas, like water, seeks its own level.

The deeper problem, perhaps, is the one summed up very precisely in a note from a friend that arrived just as I finished writing this: "Do you think there's any way that intellectual life in America could become less lonely?"

I would venture to say, "Yes." And it isn't necessarily the act of communication that makes this true, but the discovery of finding one's thoughts echoed in the words of so many brilliant others.

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