Intellectuals and Publics: Essays on Cultural Theory and Practice
School of English, Latrobe University $15pb, 144pp
About ten years ago, the British writer, Paul Johnson, published a book called Intellectuals. He had evidently formed a low impression of the species. If you look up ‘intellectual’ in the index you won’t find a list of learned personalities, nor of publications, nor of universities or academic societies. Instead you’ll find references to aggressiveness, violence, cowardice, cruelty, dishonesty, egoism, hypocrisy, vanity, snobbery, intolerance, self-pity and so on. If you think the index is nasty, wait till you try the book.
Intellectuals and Publics draws on a far narrower field than Johnson. Johnson surveys the whole of western history since the enlightenment; these ‘essays on cultural theory and practice’ are largely preoccupied by the fortunes of a smallish group of thinkers and writers, in Australia, in the present. Occasionally, some historical context is added by somebody, such as McKenzie Wark in his contribution, referrers to experiences of twenty years ago. Even so, the book brings together a far wider range of images of ‘intellectuals’ and attitudes to ‘publics’ than Johnson is bothered with.