Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain

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Overview


A richly textured work of history and a powerful contribution to contemporary cultural debate, Absent Minds provides the first full-length account of "he question of intellectuals" n twentieth-century Britain--have such figures ever existed, have they always been more prominent or influential elsewhere, and are they on the point of becoming extinct today?

Recovering neglected or misunderstood traditions of reflection and debate from the late nineteenth century through to the present, Stefan Collini challenges the familiar cliché that there are no "real" intellectuals in Britain. The book offers a persuasive analysis of the concept of 'the intellectual' and an extensive comparative account of how this question has been seen in the USA, France, and elsewhere in Europe. There are detailed discussions of influential or revealing figures such as Julien Benda, T. S. Eliot, George Orwell, and Edward Said, as well as trenchant critiques of current assumptions about the impact of specialization and celebrity. Throughout, attention is paid to the multiple senses of the term "intellectuals" and to the great diversity of relevant genres and media through which they have communicated their ideas, from pamphlets and periodical essays to public lectures and radio talks.

Elegantly written and rigorously argued, Absent Minds is a major, long-awaited work by a leading intellectual historian and cultural commentator, ranging across the conventional divides between academic disciplines and combining insightful portraits of individuals with sharp-edged cultural analysis.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199216659
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/6/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Stefan Collini is Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Clare Hall. A frequent contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, and other periodicals both in Britain and the USA, his previous books include Public Moralists (1991), Matthew Arnold: a Critical Portrait (1994), and English Pasts (1999). He is a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Question of Intellectuals
Part One: The Terms of the Question
1. The History of a Word
2. A Matter of Definition
Part Two: Fonder Hearts
3. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
4. Of Light and Leading
5. Highbrows and Other Aliens
6. The Long 1950s I: Happy Families
7. The Long 1950s II: Brave Causes
8. From New Left to Old Chestnut
Part Three: Comparative Perspectives
9. In their Natonal Habitat
10. Greener Grass: Letters from America
11. The Peculiarities of the French
12. The Translation of the Clerks
Part Four: Some Versions of Denial
13. Clerisy or Undesirables: T. S. Eliot
14. Professional Cackling: R. G. Collingwood
15. Other People: George Orwell
16. Nothing to Say: A. J. P. Taylor
17. No True Answers: A. J. Ayer
Part Five: Repeat Performances
18. Outsider Studies: The Glamour of Dissent
19. Media Studies: A Discourse of General Ideas
20. Long Views I: Specialization and its Discontents
21. Long Views II: From Authority to Celebrity?
Epilogue: No Elsewhere

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2008

    Superb study of the question of intellectuals in Britain

    This book by Stefan Collini, Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge University, is a superb discussion of the question of intellectuals in Britain. He questions the idea that intellectuals are uniquely absent or insignificant in Britain. According to this `absence thesis¿, part of our `national character¿ is that we are uniquely pragmatic, unintellectual and practical. In a brilliant chapter on George Orwell, Collini notes that Orwell often adopted the manner of a public-school bully and concludes, ¿he encouraged an undiscriminating hostility to intellectuals as such, and he was then surely guilty of that most unlovely and least defensible of inner contradictions, the anti-intellectualism of the intellectual.¿ Collini rightly questions a class analysis which sees the intelligentsia as a separate social stratum. Unfortunately, he fails to see that intellectuals work for a living 'writing is work, as Marx observed' and so are members of the working class. Collini denies that a ruling class exists, but offers no better explanation of how society is run, although he notes `global capitalism¿s relentless search for profit¿. He also observes that the `absence thesis¿ does express the thought that intelligence, imagination and justice are not Britain¿s governing principles. He decries `the posturing and self-importance involved in the post-war French intellectuals¿ prominence in their society¿. He is not deriding those French intellectuals who supported, or kept quiet about, the French state¿s colonial wars against Vietnam and Algeria, but those, like Jean-Paul Sartre, who opposed these wars. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir 'whom Collini never mentions' broke through the censorship to reveal these wars¿ inevitable crimes. Britain¿s intellectuals almost all ignored the British state¿s similar wars against Malaya and Kenya. Collini too ignores all these wars 'he only mentions Algeria, just once', which enables him to insult those who worked for peace. He writes of `the unglamorous obligation to try to be realistic in identifying the lesser evil¿. As a description of political duties, this is far too vague. Wasn¿t Sartre realistic in calling for the French to leave Algeria, as they did in the end? Are we only to identify the `lesser evil¿ among the parliamentary parties? Isn¿t this making a choice of paint when the house is crumbling?

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