A host of British public intellectuals have sounded off on the question of public intellectuals… again. For some reason this topic has become something of a refrain for the British (the Americans as well). We are meant to think there is some tremendous mystery to be solved: the French, we are told, love their intellectuals – fête them even – but the British hate their intellectuals; they look at them cock-eyed, or askance, or sometimes even askew. The journalists ask: why this difference? John Naughton, for example, has reviewed some books that return to this depressing cliché, dragged out every so often and wheeled around like the sad, emaciated final elephant of a bankrupt travelling circus. The fact that the whole theory is a giant pile of garbage does not prevent it from being meticulously picked through, over and over, usually concluding with the staggering revelation that it is, in fact, garbage. Continue reading “On Public Intellectuals”
Philosophers have long since begun to question the possibility of ‘neutral’ speech acts. More recently, thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Rene Girard have each offered diverse analyses of the many ways in which discourse is marked by violence. Is language necessarily connected to acts of oppression? Can we speak without limiting the world, reducing the ‘other’?
Recent headlines suggest the beginning of a kind of bare minimum assent to such theories. According to the BBC, the French government is deliberating over the possibility of legally banning ‘psychological violence’ (i.e., verbal abuse) within couples. While practical questions of ‘proof’ remain, the consideration itself is encouraging. Contrary to the old adage, words can hurt. And, if the law passes, ‘violent’ verbal exchanges will yield real penalties.