Book review: “The Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson

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Published in 1988, “The Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson (born 1928) is a unique book. Not only for its quality but because there aren’t many like it. There is “The Betrayal of the Intellectuals” (1927) by Julien Benda, “The intellectuals and the masses (1990)” by John Carey, “Intellectuals and Society” (2010) by Thoma Sowell, and I guess “Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith” (1980) by James H. Billington, which also deals with a somewhat similar subject. But, acknowledging these exceptions, one has to admit that there aren’t many books about the “intellectual class”, its origins, impact, and so on. That seems to be changing, but studying the intellectuals is still taboo. Not surprising if one realizes they have become a new kind of priesthood.

 

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Random Derrida #2

Today, in Random Derrida™, it’s Glas (1974)! It’s a book by Derrida described on Wikipedia as “It combines a reading of Hegel‘s philosophical works and of Jean Genet‘s autobiographical writing. ‘One of Derrida’s more inscrutable books,’[1] its form and content invite a reflection on the nature of literary genre and of writing.”

Well, if it invites a reflection, I’m sure it will be great. Wikipedia also says:

Following the structure of Jean Genet’s Ce qui est resté d’un Rembrandt déchiré en petits carrés bien réguliers, et foutu aux chiottes [“What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn Into Four Equal Pieces and Flushed Down the Toilet”], the book is written in two columns in different type sizes. The left column is about Hegel, the right column is about Genet. Each column weaves its way around quotations of all kinds, both from the works discussed and from dictionaries—Derrida’s “side notes”,[2] described as “marginalia, supplementary comments, lengthy quotations, and dictionary definitions.”[3] Sometimes words are cut in half by a quotation which may last several pages.

Uh, ok, let’s see what we may stumble upon. Mhh… page 143!

And the spit with which the gliding mast would be smeared becomes, very quickly -the pen is dipped into a very fluid glue- some vaseline. And even, without forcing, a tube of mentholated vaseline.Rises therefore in one sudden stroke [d’un coup], though very elaborated, the “tube of vaseline” that a policemen, in 1932, two pages further on, draws out of the pocket of the narrator

I’m speechless.

And what does Derrida says about Hegel on the other column?

 

What is a corpse? What is to make a gift of a corpse?Pure singularity: neither the empiric individual that death destroys, decomposes, analyzes, nor the rational universality of the citizen, of the living subject. What I give as a present to the woman, in exchange for the fneral rite, is my own absolutely proper body, the essence of my singularity.

 

 

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Random Derrida #1

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. He was also the most incomprehensible, and I’m sure those two facts are related somehow. As the father of deconstructionism, his style of writing has become quite common in academia -humanities and social sciences mostly-. So, if you have ever been attacked by an academician wielding an arsenal of “problematic logocentric normativities and politico-sexual assumption in an ideological impregnating semantic space,” you can thank Derrida.

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