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THE EDITORS A Letter on Professionalization The letter printed below has been sent to a number of people, and we take this opportunity to invite readers of UTQ who may be interested in the topic it raises to respond. There has been some criticism in the United States recently of what might be called the 'professionalization of the intellectuals.' The critics (they include Gerald Graff, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Leslie Fiedler, Russell Jacoby, and others) complain that intellectuals are sealing themselves offfrom the educated public outside the universities, with literary critics, economists, historians, philosophers, and sociologists increasingly writing for fellow professionals in sub-fields (themselves increasingly narrow) of their disciplines. In The Last Intellectuals (1987), Russell Jacoby writes that Younger intellectuals no longer need or want a larger public; they are almost exclusively professors. Campuses are their homes; colleagues their audience; monographs and specialized journals their media. Unlike past intellectuals they situate themselves within fields and disciplines.... Their jobs, advancement , and salaries depend on the evaluation of specialists, and this dependence affects the issues broached and the language employed. For some of these critics, a recurring point of comparative reference is the period before about 1960-5, prior to the 'socialization' into academic life of a cohort of graduate students who now comprise a large part of the professoriat. Although this generation may have become 'radical' or 'feminist' twenty years ago, the objection is that the conditions of its members' professional lives define their writing, what they consider to be their audiences, and the ways in which they think about art, ideas, and society. We realize not only that there is some presumption in identifying oneself as an 'intellectual' but that the word itself is difficult to define. It cannot, of course, be restricted to university professors, and among the latter it cannot be restricted to those who work in the humanities and social sciences. We assume only that the majority ofintellectuals are in the universities. As for disciplinary affiliation, it is clear that the history of the humanities and social sciences cannot be restricted to a history of the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 58, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1988/9 242 EDITORS university. Experience suggests, however, that these disciplines remain the traditional - certainly not the exclusive - homes of the intellectuals. In that allegedly pre-professional time, it is sometimes argued that there existed more of what might be called a 'public culture' (not to be confused with a 'popularized culture'). Intellectuals like Edmund Wilson, George Orwell, George Woodcock, and others wrote for the educated public in a prose honed by their experience of writing in magazines like the New Statesman, the Nation, Partisan Review, Canadian Forum, etc. With the movement of two generations of intellectuals into the universities, literary criticism (for example) came to be written for other university critics. Not only did its non-academic audience contract but also that portion of its academic audience comprising intellectuals in other fields. Nor was the phenomenon restricted to criticism, for similar complaints are made about history, philosophy, political science, and sociology. Of course, such charges have not gone unanswered. It is said that the so-called 'decline of the intellectuals' has been a chic topic for decades (in Commentary, in 1956, H. Stuart Hughes asked, 'Is the Intellectual Obsolete?') or that serious writing has always had a small audience. A common response is that one person's 'public intellectual' is another person's 'popularizing journalist;' The latter point - an academic counter-sneer to those that journalists sometimes make against professors - seems to imply that serious thinking about art, ideas, politics, and society can no more be carried on today in the prose of an Orwell than serious thinking about nature can be carried on by scientists working in basement and garage laboratories. If Fredric Jameson can be both the 'major Marxist critic' in North America and also (because of his noli me legere prose) largely unread outside the academy, this is less a matter of regret (except among disaffected intellectuals made obsolete by new ideas) than the inevitable effect, noted by Eliot as the cause of the difficulty of modern poetry, of the complexity of modern life. We would appreciate receiving your...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 241-243
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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