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Sunday, November 9, 2003

joi ponders his inner old man

joi ito is someone with whom i’ve had an evolving interaction (and the great pleasure of sharing dinner a couple times – putting me in some rather illustrious company, if a bit crowded 🙂 – joi will have dinner with anybody 🙂 )

today, joi ponders his inner cranky old man, which apparently escaped recently.

I think this issue of having difficulty engaging in a discussion with someone on a topic you understand well where you have a strong opinion is an issue that many academics face. This forces them to climb their ivory towers and engage in esoteric debates in an esoteric language with their peers and not reach down to the average person. This is also why many academics avoid publishing in popular media.

… and then asks about solutions, and gives the blog a quick nod.

this is something i’ve been occasionally brushing up against here. sometimes i even notice i’ve been given a clue.

anyway, since it’s one of the major threads i seem to have woven here, i thought i’d dig deep into my past (all the way back to 1986 or so), and bring in some deep thoughts on the subject from someone else. i present umberto eco, the blogger.

umberto eco, travels in hyper reality, preface to the american edition, 1986.

an american interviewer once asked me how i managed to reconcile my work as a scholar and university professor, author of books published by university presses, with my other work as what would be called in the united states a “columnist” – not to mention the fact that, once in my life, i even wrote a novel (a negligible incident and, in any case, an activity allowed by the constitution of every democratic nation). it is true that along with my academic job, i also write regularly for newspapers and magazines, where, in terms less technical than in my books on semiotics, i discuss various aspects of daily life, ranging from sport to politics and culture.
my answer was that this habit is common to all european intellectuals, in germany, france, spain and, naturally, italy: all countries where a scholar or scientist often feels required to speak out in the papers, to comment, if only from the point of view of his own interests and special field, on the events that concern all citizens. and i added, somewhat maliciously, that if there was any problem with this it was not my problem as a european intellectual; it was more a problem of american intellectuals, who live in a country where the division of labor between university professors and militant intellectuals is much more strict than in our countries.
it is true that many american university professors write for cultural reviews or for the book page of the daily papers. but many italian scholars and literary critics also write columns where they take a stand on political questions, and they do this not only as a natural part of their work, but also as a duty. there is, then, a difference in “patterns of culture.” cultural anthropologists accept cultures in which people eat dogs, monkeys, frogs, and snakes, and even cultures where adults chew gum, so it should be all right for countries to exist where university professors contribute to the newspapers.

update: fixed the first-paragraph misaligned quotations so the paragraph is visible, and fixed some spelling errors.

posted by roj at 7:05 pm