In Feb. 2015, Mark Greif, best known as a founder and editor of n+1, published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “What’s Wrong With The Public Intellectual?” in which he traced a history of intellectualism in the USA to take scope of the present terrain of “public intellectualism,” along with depicting a landscape of the current stakes, to inform and configure what endeavors at public intellectualism today should be like.
He wrote in it, “My sense of the true writing of the ‘public intellectuals’ of the Partisan Review era is that it was always addressed just slightly over the head of an imagined public—at a height where they must reach up to grasp it. But the writing seemed, also, always just slightly above the Partisan Review writers themselves. They, the intellectuals, had stretched themselves to attention, gone up on tiptoe, balancing, to become worthy of the more thoughtful, more electric tenor of intellect they wanted to join. They, too, were of ‘the public,’ but a public that wanted to be better, and higher. They distinguished themselves from it momentarily, by pursuing difficulty, in a challenge to the public and themselves—thus becoming equals who could earn the right to address this public.”
And also, “The idea of the public intellectual in the 21st century should be less about the intellectuals and how, or where, they ought to come from vocationally, than about restoring the highest estimation of the public. Public intellect is most valuable if you don’t accept the construction of the public handed to us by current media. Intellectuals: You—we—are the public.”
This essay drew criticism from Noah Berlatsky, writing for the New Republic. He pointed out that in Greif’s essay, “[t]he real dynamics of who is and is not a public intellectual remain fairly traditional. Greif sees public intellectuals as linked, one way or another, to the university (‘it would be wise for intellectuals to stop being so ashamed of ties to universities, however tight or loose; it’s cowardly, and often irrelevant’). He also places them in the context of familiar outlets, whether the Partisan Review, his own magazine n+1, or (perhaps) The New Republic.”
And also, “If that’s what the public intellectual is, maybe it’s time to reinvent the title—if not kill it entirely. Rather than calling on public intellectuals to elevate an aspiring public, we should imagine an intellectual public, including academics but also writers, activists, Twitter users, and commenters. Instead of a Partisan Review bringing big ideas to an eager public, what we need, perhaps, is a world in which the Partisan Review and its galaxy of intellectual brilliance brings its ideas out, and is greeted by a public that can talk back, and offer its own ideas, commentary, and theories, in terms just as scintillating.”
Berlatsky’s construal of Greif may well have been uncharitable. Reading the latter’s essay, one could also reckon that he would include Berlatsky’s “intellectual public” in his call to the contemporary public intellectual. Regardless, the relevant point here is that this intellectual public exists, but rather than between hallowed magazine covers, thrives in contentment on social media and small, unsung websites, in the lineage of the “intellectual work often perpetrated by folks who would never have been granted access to the pages of The Partisan Review.”
This section of this website shall serve as a gallery curating the best of such social media intellectualism, as encountered by the contributor/s to this page. The positions in the curated content are not intended to necessarily align with or substantiate writing in other sections of hipstersublation. Here is simply a celebration of people who display scintillating sharpness or formidable knowledge of a subject—even if lacking the privilege-signifying and publication-magnetizing sheen of literary intellectualese—and even if, under the pressures of prevailing economic conditions, they are barred from the luxury of honing these capacities as classic public intellectuals. Long live the intellectual public.
(perhaps the most incisive demonstration seen by this contributor of taking in, analyzing and having the last word in an argument; on the eve of Sanders’ speech at the DNC)
(soon after the California primary, and the effective end of Sanders’ campaign)
(around the time that militia in Oregon tried to take over)