What Good Are Intellectuals?

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What Good Are Intellectuals was originally published in Paris as the 1998 edition of an annual series entitled The Rules of the Game: Literature, Philosophy, Art, and Politics under the direction of Bernard Henri-Lévy. The first half of the book offers essays by and about Paul Bowles, Marc Lambron, Michel Onfray, Gilles Hertzog, Wietske Venema, Cécile Guilbert, Yann Moix and William Styron.

Paul Bowles talks about Camus and Sartre, and Camus's observation that American writers ...

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Overview

What Good Are Intellectuals was originally published in Paris as the 1998 edition of an annual series entitled The Rules of the Game: Literature, Philosophy, Art, and Politics under the direction of Bernard Henri-Lévy. The first half of the book offers essays by and about Paul Bowles, Marc Lambron, Michel Onfray, Gilles Hertzog, Wietske Venema, Cécile Guilbert, Yann Moix and William Styron.

Paul Bowles talks about Camus and Sartre, and Camus's observation that American writers were the only writers in the world who don’t feel the need to be intellectuals as well.
"That’s funny."
"Do you agree with that definition?"
"Yes, yes, I do, because the Americans aren’t capable of becoming intellectuals."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that they aren’t intellectuals, and if you aren’t an intellectual, you can’t pretend to be one."
"Camus sees that almost as a freedom. Instead of the obligation that some people feel, 'I am a writer, I have to become an intellectual,' they don’t have to justify themselves, they don’t have to defend themselves philosophically."
"Even if they wanted to be intellectuals, they couldn’t be. That’s all I’m trying to say."
"Why not?"
"Because they are far less cultivated. There is far less culture behind the Americans than behind most Europeans. In Europe, there is a continuous, flowing culture. In America, everything is fragmented."

They talk about life in Tangiers, drug use, death, anti-European sentiment in Algeria and other conflicts, leading to his proposition that a monthly newspaper would be more than sufficient to keep abreast of what's important. "This monthly, that would spare us all the details, what would it be? A summary of major events? What would be the ideal newspaper?"
"You read the newspaper to find out who is winning the war. There’s always a war going on, and you have to keep track of it."
Finally, he observes: "If you are aware that life is absurd, you can tolerate it, because that which is absurd is tolerable."

Marc Lambron shares snippets from his daily journal, opening a window on a Parisian life of thought and culture, including gossip. "Like anyone who spent the first nineteen years of his life in Lyon," he says, "I had a thirst for Paris. In Lyon, there was nothing much to see. You had to go look for it. Now, I watch the spectacle of Paris without always understanding it, but I note that it is still expanding. It has a grandeur. Writing here, I am part of it. I spoke with Erik Orsenna about my plan to keep a journal every day for a year. He thinks it’s a good idea, photographic, a way to force myself to see and to synthesize what I see. But the principle point he makes is this: not to stop at the description of events, not to leave the televisual worldview with a monopoly. Writers see from a differentangle, another truth. It is already worth something if they simply try to stick to that. Then the day-to-day world does not yet completely belong to the filmed media." Adriaan Venema at fifty years old was one of the most prominent novelists in Amsterdam. He was also a historian, a specialist in the Second World War and the Collaboration. He enjoyed debating ideas. He could take it as well as give it. And, it should be noted, he seemed to be in good physical and mental health. And then one day in 1993, he declared, urbi et orbi, that his life was “80% successful” and that “Nobody achieves 100%;” that he was “one year older than Maria Callas and nineteen older than Christ when they died.” In short, he announced to the intellectual community and to his readers the date and the hour of his suicide. His wife relates the thinking behind his decision, their discussions about death and life, her efforts to talk him out of it, and his reasons for going ahead. In the second half of the book writers from around the world ponder the role of the intellectual in society, whether a thinker and writer has specific responsibilities and what those might be, what effect such a person can hope to achieve — and at what cost.

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Editorial Reviews

Le Monde des Livres
Finally, Bernard-Henri Lévy has produced another in his wonderful series. In this collection of essays, writers from a dozen countries address the provocative question, What Good Are Intellectuals? A principle of uncertainty and a throbbing hesitation, not only as to the role to be played but as to the status and the identity of the intellectual, comes to light in these remarks.

Each writer talks from the context of his own country and his perception of the international environment. For some, like Algerian Aicha Lemsine, what must be affirmed is the urgency of thinking, acting, and defending against a proven and imminent threat, the very essence of being.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781892941107
  • Publisher: Algora Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.66 (d)

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