In her article “How to Talk About Books You Have Read,” Sharon Marcus links the role of the ‘semipublic’ intellectual to the profession of the teacher. She asks, “How does one do this kind of writing, which involves distilling copious research and complicated ideas about difficult texts into crystalline points that any intelligent eighteen-year-old can understand? We have a name for this in academia: we call it teaching. . .” (476). Marcus makes a well-argued point; academia is already invested in conveying complicated points to uninitiated undergraduates. Why not approach public intellect the same way? Why not become a teacher outside of academia as much as inside?
This argument handily combats the idea that public or semipublic intellectual work is inherently less rigorous and intelligent than work published in academic journals. In fact, we may even be able to view the semipublic intellectual as occupying a more difficult spot, making intelligent points that are still accessible to a general readership. Although this approach will inevitably step on some toes, stagnation is never combatted by people afraid of offending. If anything, a sort of productive offense must occur. Intellectuals must encounter and counter current publishing practices, searching for a new method for disseminating intellectual work.
I support Marcus’ stance and would like to further contend that it is important for the humanities to shift towards a more public face, not because of an attack or crisis within academia, but because the nature of the humanities should be human. Humanity is an incredibly diverse thing or project or idea, and academia, regardless of the diverse backgrounds of faculty, has remained surprisingly homogenous in its publishing mores. To reconnect the study of the humanities to the thing that fuels it (that is, the human experience), the intellectual community must cast their net further. For what use are the artifacts and studies of the humanities if they remain proudly pinned on the walls of an ivory office? Spread them to the masses and see what wonderful things may happen when you become a teacher of the many instead of the few.
Marcus, Sharon. “How to Talk About Books You Have Read.” PMLA 130.2: 2015. 474-80. Web.