Sunday, April 10, 2005

Brain Drain/Culture of (Unintelligent) Life

The tightness and tension of my sternum finally just released as I began trying to articulate something that I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks.

When Jacques Derrida died, French President Chirac released a simple statement: "With him, France has given the world one of its greatest contemporary philosophers, one of the major figures of intellectual life of our time."

Stephen & I talked later that night and tried to imagine the impossible: What would our president’s statement be when one of America’s great intellectuals died? First off, someone would have to tell him who the person was because, despite his East Coast/New England privilege & Ivy League degrees, he wouldn’t have a clue.

A few weeks later, Susan Sontag died. The White House was silent (just as one of the sharpest critics of the White House was now silent). What does it say when the intelligentsia and the political administration wage war so tirelessly against one another?

But President Bush has had since then a handful of other opportunities to honor the men and women who influence our culture at the highest levels, most notably Arthur Miller & Saul Bellow.

So what if you don’t know who they are or haven’t read a thing they’ve written (or never understood anything that sprang from their heads), tell the fucking press secretary or the goddamned poet laureate to write something nice and trivial (perhaps a haiku) to honor these titans of the intellect.

It couldn’t merely be because Bush did not agree politically with the dead: he did, after all, pull some mighty fine fluff out of his ass for the pope: “The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd; the world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home.”

I hate to be cynical, but perhaps Bush was merely appealing to the Catholic vote, knowing full well the cultural cache such statements about the pope would have among those people, while knowing full well that intellectuals, no matter how desperate, would never back such a dim-witted oaf.

The battle continues....

But even David Brooks (perhaps the closest thing the right has to an intellectual) can come up with some insightful words about Bellow.


  1. Your brilliance and your own insightful words never cease to amaze me.

  2. It is very much a battle, and as anti-intellectualism is a time honored sentiment in the US, the battle isn't likely to be over soon. It is one thing to be unintelligent, uninformed or unengaged, due to a lack of guidance, education, or self motivation, but the attitude that seems to be more insidiously pervasive is one of willful ignorance--deliberate unengagement. It is this attitude that our President not only gleefully promotes--it is how he won a second term! And intellectuals will never be able to successfully challenge these attitudes with our current arsenal.

    What I'd relish reading about here, Frankie--from you, Stevie, and the other brilliant people who post here--is a battle plan.

    In the meantime, I'm going to do battle with the remains of 14 inches of snow in order to get to work...