Is the role of intellectuals sometimes taken over by reflected filmmakers – and those old universal critics gone?

Truls Lie
Editor-in-chief, Modern Times Review. Also head of the Norwegian monthly newspaper NY TID. Based in Oslo/Berlin.

Around 120 years ago, Emile Zola accused the French State of hiding the truth in the Dreyfus case. An incident many have referred to as the birth itself of the modern, power-critical intellectual. At that time, as now, ‘intellectual’ was akin to a swear word. Despite this, Norway some years ago established their Value Commission. And also at that time former President of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, was appointed leader of UNESCO’s World commission for ‘ethics and science’ – a commission which will consist of 20 prominent people from scientific, legal, philosophical, cultural and political circles worldwide.

Norway and Island are not alone in invoking reflection. Yeltsin’s former head of staff introduced a similar initiative before Christmas. Sergej Filatov stated that a so-called «congress for the intelligentsia of the Russian Confederation” will, via a constituted General Assembly form a group making up over a thousand wise people who will discuss topics such as ‘Human, Society, Power’, ‘The Culture and Reforms’ plus ‘the intelligentsia and international relations.’ The purpose is to reconstruct the intelligentsia as a societal power and authority, meaning to provide moral supporters for the State in a chaotic Russia.

The philosopher Adorno pointed out that the crisis of modernity is in its lack of reflection and demanded people to reflect on fundamental problems as well as shouldering the blame for the mistakes of time. Jean-Paul Sartre has a similar claim of the universality of the thought and the transparent society. The role of the bare any power relation.

Today’s intellectuals will use agility rather than strength, tolerance instead of truth, and display style over strength.

However, many would today interject that the intelligentsia has played their part. Belief in the universality of organisations which suppress and marginalise – the way for instance The Class Struggle (Klassekampen) newspaper still want us to believe. Power is anonymous, invisible and faceless – the line between attacker and victim is also blurred. Even sense, in its instrumental form is disciplined and is power’s foremost weapon – and criticism loses its counterforce. The intellectual may end up as a fashion phenomenon which speculate in manners of speech and thought, and in ways of dressing. Cultured people who find a value distinction in the time difference between being ahead, avant-garde, faster than others – desiring divergences. Post-modern philosophy, and since that, trans-modern, has to a large degree seen to the end of the traditional role of the intellectual. Today’s academics and intellectuals have since the 1980s gone through a de-politicising and is characterised more by an increasing aesthetisation.

The pain of intellectual honesty is now exchanged with the enjoyment of planned efficiency. Ignorance is no longer wrong, and education only a career qualification looking after the performative practitioner. This way, should the intellectuals’ history, which started with Emile Zola, newspapers and the formation of the bourgeois public – be a short term phenomenon? No. The intellectuals will enter into new roles. Today’s intellectuals will use agility rather than strength, tolerance instead of truth, and display style over strength. An intellectual will today be what Michel Foucault coined the ‘specific intellectual.’ A person with such a philosophical stance will no longer speak in the name of Humanity, Sense or Class, but rather consider this work a local intervention into specific situations. In such cases, concepts will be ‘tools’, whereby their validity depends on the ability to analyse given situations.

To a specific intellectual, thinking is based on the ‘diversity pragmatics’, her thoughts are no longer large syntheses or have stories as goal. She also accepts the nihilistic insight that the human has enough riches in the world of interpretations, and take responsibility for staying exactly there. She participates where power is, relentlessly participating in creating the concepts or images we use for thinking in a transient society.

The role of the anti-totalitarian intellectual has ended, the encyclopaedic intellectual is over – time is ripe for the young, specific intellectual.

 


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