Combatting the anti-intellectual forces of the world is a strenuous task, not one that doesn’t, in itself, exist. Believe it! And, no, this isn’t elitism speaking. The downturn in an interest in the humanities doesn’t STEM from the ivory tower-ness of the Academy. Thinking is still thinking, just as reading is still reading. The human eyes haven’t changed, just as the human brain hasn’t. Yet, a certain force holds sway now. The kind of malevolence generally witnessed through the perfect 20/20 of hindsight when a society stops to ask: How did things get like this? Can the intellectuals be blamed when political leaders call for more plumbers and less philosophers…when those very voices could neither install a toilet main nor properly define ontology? Ian Bogost’s “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt” cites the incorrect “only possible answer” when he claims that the problem is us? And BTW who’s us? How do we not want to change when our business is itself change: changing the hidden into the revealed, the unknown into the known, the esoteric into the deconstructed?
A severely undervalued point is missed with the accusation that “we have chosen to be marginal”. No one chooses marginality. We as scholars, whether admittedly liberal or otherwise, especially in literature studies, lack the luxury of turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to those pushed to these margins, and that’s why we are there, clanging together pots and pans for the voiceless. And, yes, I understand that we ourselves are in danger of becoming ironically marginal, but the cure-all for this is not to forgo those that need our powers of interpretation and theorization, for the cool kids who are going to be OK anyway. It isn’t a choice to be the pointing finger, always looking for a new way to say that something here doesn’t look or smell right, it’s our duty as those with opened eyes to link the bottom to the top and the center to the margins.
History has shown us the dangers of conceptualizing intellectualism as some exclusionary, nefarious plot to….I don’t know…go blind reading books, suffer silverfish infestations, or be generally awkward at social gatherings. In all seriousness, intellectuals are the first against the wall when totalitarianism grabs power, as in Germany in the 1930’s or Venezuela in the 1990’s, and we know the score. ‘Don’t look to the margins, don’t look toward the marginalized’ and with ease, they are lined up in front of ditches, shackled, or, in many other ways, transformed from the marginalized into the liquidated.
Make no mistake, a grave danger exists in pretending these margins are nonexistent or unimportant, and that the mainstream needs more attention than it already insists upon forcing us to relinquish. How easy should it be to “burn way the dead wood” due to that dead wood’s unpopularity, or in fear that someone, somewhere doesn’t understand the terminology I use to describe the dead wood’s plight? Why not burn away everything we don’t like or understand? We are the “masochists” that the world desperately needs now and will always need. Research isn’t fashionable, and demolition and deconstruction are not synonymous.
Bogost, Ian. “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Web. n.d. 26 March 2016. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/12
*image courtesy of religioustolerance.org