Sharon Marcus, in “How to Talk About Books You Have Read,” labels the work done on the online review Public Books as being “Janus faced, attuned to the academy and to those outside it who are interested in scholarly ideas and research” (476). Before I decided to go to college in my thirty-somethingth year, I was one of those “outside it” yet still interested in the literary world. I’ve always possessed the desire to at least know what the world of literature is focusing upon or what philosophical thought is being bandied about amongst the life-of-the-mind crowd. You know, has anyone figured out this human-being business yet, that sort of thing.
As Marcus and her fellow contributors at Public Books seem to be furthering, the proliferation of public intellectualism and the Digital Humanities is filling a very specific void in the world, one that arguably has existed for quite some time. When we ask ourselves about the efficacy of the Public Humanities and the shift to readily accessible scholarly work, aren’t we being a bit short sighted? As Marcus notes the “fantasy of an indefinitely free and open Web,” sites that promote public interest in the Humanities already pull advertisers while being perused by hundreds of thousands of visitors (479).
A common myth of our atavistic society, a myth that is a symptom of our adoration of the wealthy above all, is that those that work with their hands, blue and gray collar workers, are chained to rocks they call jobs in purgatorial mind-numbing wastelands. This simply isn’t true and amounts to logical fallacy. The educated/enlightened man standing above the barely literate grunt, the vocational school certificate holder suffering from a disastrous choice, is also more stereotype than truth. In fact, we know well what miniscule percentage of the population could benefit from a little horizon broadening. The success of sites like Public Books reflects the truth about those outside of the super book-geek crowd and their need for knowledge and willingness to look in the direction of the Humanities. The human being is a curious animal, always attempting to dissect instinctively whatever can be pulled apart or pondered over, and this movement of scholarly work from the relatively small circulation of specialized-and expensive-academic journals into cyberspace underscores this willingness to learn, or at least look.
Marcus. Sharon. “How To Talk About Books You Have Read.” PMLA 130.2 (2015): 474-480. Print.