6 responses

  1. “The decisive development of the modern character of science as ongoing activity, also forms men of a different stamp. The scholar disappears. He is succeeded by the research man who is engaged in research projects. These, rather than the cultivating of erudition, lend to his work its atmosphere of incisiveness. The research man no longer needs a library at home. Moreover, he is constantly on the move. He negotiates at meetings and collects information at congresses. He contracts for commissions with publishers. The latter now determine with him which books must be written. (The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, p. 125)”

  2. I think philosophy has indeed gone AWOL, or worse. It’s decided that it is a chapter in the history of science, not of letters. But then I wonder, what ever happened, really, to The Republic of Letters to which we ought to belong? I feel quite certain it once existed. But in America? And I wonder if in America it was ever in the academy? Maybe it was just in NYC in the Bars and Editorial Offices for a few decades after WWII. Or in Paris in the cafes between the Wars. Or in Vienna in the coffee houses before WWI. We WANT such a Republic to have existed, a place where Plato, Montaigne, and Leavis, where Kafka, Steiner and Cavell can converse, where your credentials for conversation do not include who supervised your PhD dissertation, in what sub-field.
    So, Kelly, I wonder if there is a Republic from which there has been a secession? I think that 80% of my colleagues in Literature would greet the idea — that there is such a Republic and that they might want to join it — with incomprehension or worse.

  3. Another thought.
    Writers who are neither poets nor dramatists, neither novelists nor academic philosophers might nevertheless belong to the Republic of Letters by earning the accolade “Man of Letters.” In English-speaking cultures, this laurel is bestowed on a writer of capacious perspectives, capable of writing engagingly on matters literary and political, philosophical, social, and historical, without claiming the authority of any academic specialty. Their authority is self-earned, and derives from the power of their distinctive writing voice. The are not “research men.” I think here of George Steiner and Iris Murdoch. Putting the accolade’s gender-bias aside, both paint engagingly for non-specialists on an extremely broad topical palette. They write, as Kierkegaard might write, on love and desire, art and philosophy, mysticism and moral vision, self-deception and the good. But philosophy has narrowed its sights, and thinks that that is rather grandiose, and no doubt undisciplined.

    • Good points all, Ed. I guess what I have in mind really is not so much an actual Republic as an ideal one, one to which we can belong only if we are attempting to create it. Secession then would not be the opting-out of an actual community, but the giving up on the ideal one, giving up by not attempting to create it. And the Republic I have in mind (similar to Hume’s, from whom I borrow the phrase) is one that is, first and foremost, “conversible”, concerned with sociability, and opening out upon and sustained by our common lives on common ground.

      • “The Republic I have in mind (similar to Hume’s, from whom I borrow the phrase) is one that is, first and foremost, “conversible”, concerned with sociability, and opening out upon and sustained by our common lives on common ground.” That says it all. I think we create and sustain such an ideal at odd moments during exceptional conference sessions, or as we think together on blogs, or as we dig out letters from old friends, or agree to visit a colleague’s seminar, and things hum.

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