I have problems with Gramsci, because I don't know Italian and the translations of his notebooks are too hard for me to understand, so I'm stuck with secondary sources. I can't fully understand his work for that reason, except in very broad outline.
Also, I think the Gramsci model does not quite fit circumstances in the U.S. today; Marcuse and McLuhan have enlarged on the uses of commercialism, consumerism, and the media to expand on Marxist ideas of how the masses are brought to accept the status quo. Gramsci was aware of the fascistic elements in kitsch culture, but he could not have dreamed of the elaborate media empire we have today.
According to Gramsci, There are two kinds of intellectuals: the traditional and the organic. In a sense, everyone is an intellectual, since we all use our minds. Traditional intellectuals are professors, clergy, philosophers, theoretical scientists and mathematicians and so on. They serve the elites by acting as cultural guardians of (mostly) western thought but regard themselves and are regarded by others as "above" the common culture. They are conservative in that they stand as the guardians of the "best" that culture has produced in literature, languages, the arts,philantrophy, scientific thought (as opposed to technology), philosophy and so on. This has proven to be a trap and a way of declaring their fields of interest as irrelevant: matters for one's leisure time, some beautification of everyday life, expressions of benevolence, since true citizens devote themselves mostly to obviously useful things. Other disciplines, such as anthropology and and psychology, have a quasi-scientific reputation and are regarded as "soft" but practical. Economics and political science are, of course, allied to the practicalities of business and government
Organic intellectuals, who directly serve the elites, are the technicians and pragmatic people of all sorts: engineers, inventors, information workers in advertising, journalism, popular entertainment etc. They create and improve the technology that runs society. They may show an interest in culture if it is salable and well understood by most to be good and beautiful or at the very least entertaining. There is some crossover here, because the intellectuals who create advertising and other media products have liberal arts backgrounds. Once upon a time this group of people was said to have "sold out." And of course scientific and mathematical speculation often lead to real world outcomes, the Bomb being one example.
So the traditional intellectuals provide the cultural, best that has been thought and said justification for the way things are, ( and for the religious, the beauties of resignation to the world as it is), and the organic intellectuals provide the infrastructure. The former are regarded by more practical types as sometimes capable of good, perhaps even salable, ideas. The latter are the ones who know how the world really works.
In the meantime a whole new class has arisen: the college educated business class, the MBAs.They have a little scientific or liberal arts background but are solely interested in wealth and social prestige. More and more students are getting business degrees. The MBA's vision of higher education is that it must make a profit. What's good is what the market says is good.
On the left, and bereft, are us liberal intellectuals.
Most of us know some Marx and believe that our society must provide better for the poor and luckless. But we don't believe in revolution, since we are too comfortable (or too scared). We give money to good causes. We march and petition. We are regarded as ineffectual.
On the right, the reactionaries blame our current woes on us liberal intellectuals. Since liberal intellectuals have no power and are stereotyped as latte -sipping snobs, we make good targets. Conservatives prescribe religion and family values as ways to deal with poverty and alienation. To Tea Partiers, conservatism makes a lot of sense. People want to be rewarded for leading the lives dictated to them. Women would like some credit for how they have lived for their families, for instance. Veterans want to be honored for their service. Libertarians claim to be interested only in getting the government off their backs, although they benefit from public projects and often are living off government salaries and pensions.
So what about real change? As usual, technological change is ahead of cultural change. We readily accept improvements in technology. Culturally, we lag behind. As someone embedded in the humanities and liberal thought patterns, I can't make out the road ahead.
I do think that Michael Moore is on to something, though. This seems like a small matter, perhaps, but every evening he goes for a walk. He gets good exercise, talks to his neighbors, urges people who are also walking to tweet him about what they see and learn on their perambulations. I am going to start "walking with Michael" myself. It was through walking around that Walter Benjamin came up with his great insights about Paris and Moscow. I plan to keep records of my walkabouts in Seattle and will report back. That's the best I can do as an old woman and blinkered liberal traditional intellectual.
To my insane amusement Ann Althouse is sufficiently burned by my criticism of her bloggery to put a quote and a link from her blog to mine. A few of her loyalists have come over to set me straight "about her intellectual honesty" and how insignificant my blog is by contrast to hers. Having never claimed to be especially significant either in my person or as a blogger, I am nonetheless responding with great seriousness, so to her and her defenders I say, "Oh poo."
This is the most fun I've had since Rebecca Walker came over here and went off on me. Oh, and I infuriated Ishmael Reed once, and that was a hoot!
And I had been congratulating myself on how I'd been staying out of trouble lately. Oh well. Lucky Hattie's Web is only a blog, nothing serious.
For all Scott Walker's dog-and-pony shows on jobs, the fact is that Wisconsin leads the nation in job loss under Walker's failed leadership. He claimed that jobs were his signature issue and, by that standard, he has failed spectacularly, salting the earth for Wisconsin's middle class in his inept and criminally corrupt administration," Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Wednesday. "Scott Walker's self-regard is legendary, but even he must understand the shame in making headlines in his Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for leading the nation in job loss."
This very dumb person is being reviled even in the conservative newspaper that backed him once. I certainly hope he goes down in the June recall. Recalls aren't nice, but Walker is so damaging that he must go.
Sorry to say this, but I fear that the humanities are in deep trouble. The big name universities are now courting vast sums of money from people who care only about technology and business. The scale is tremendous. An article in the April 30 New Yorker , "Get Rich U," by Ken Auletta, about what is happening at Stanford, illustrates pretty clearly that resistance is futile.
Half of Stanford's undergraduates receive need-based financial aid: if their annual family income is below 100,000 dollars, tuition is free. "They are locomotive kids, pulling their whole family behind them," Tobias Wolff, a novelist who has taught at Stanford for nearly two decades, says.
The feeble voice of Toby Wolff is heard from his little creative writing niche. He is being judiciously tactful here, as befits a marginal academic, because the new class that Stanford is creating consists of many highly opportunistic young people from eagerly aspiring families with international connections, people who would be unlikely to show much interest in English and American fiction, his field. And that "a" is very cutting. Why not a "the" for this important American writer, that is, if any American writer is important any more? Stanford has sold itself off to make some people enormously rich and to flatter the sensibilities of Silicon Valley princelings and Asian capitalists. And the frustrating thing is that those of us who have different notions of education are just back numbers with no power who must give way to the shiny, new grandiose projects of the 21st Century and the masses and masses of youth who must be served.
I resisted buying Alain de Botton's Religion for Athiests, but I bought it for someone else, started reading it and have not been able to put it down. He suggests a complete re-ordering of humanistic knowledge in a way that would actually help people. The humanities have lost most of their credibility because they are taught badly, as he explains, in a fragmentary and disorganized way with little regard to any notions of usefulness. But of course art, poetry, music, literature and noble philosophical ideas are necessary. We can't live with unrelieved pragmatism. Ugliness makes us miserable. We need the consolations of the beautiful things humanity produces. We also need depicitions of suffering humanity to understand that we are not alone in our suffering. Religion, or the part of it that believes in a supreme diety, is hard to sell to people who have seen the real miracles of science and business and their ability to improve our lives (but also to make them harder). So he separates out what religion can offer in our real lives without making belief compulsory. As he says, god did not create us: we created god out of the needs of our species. He is hewing close to Catholicism as many people practice it, allowing for sin and confession and forgiveness, things the more austere Protestant denominations scorn. I am not in complete harmony with his point of view; my mother's family experienced a much more austere Catholicism than de Botton writes about and one with many punitive aspects. But I very much respect what de Botton has to say about the need to acknowledge our frailty as humans and our need for consolation and forgiveness. Great book.
I am wondering about the attacks on "Girls" by Jessica Valenti in her tweets and in the pages of The current New Yorker. Jessica Valenti was a guest on The Nation cruise and did not impress me (She may have been sick, I don't know) and her tweets are always full of gratuitous profanity. Lena Dunham and her writers are being accused of racism. How come? I mean, why them and not Seinfeld, for instance, or Woody Allen? How come Larry David is OK in spite of the awful things he says? Oh yes, but it's all in fun. Even the outrageous Sarah Silverman gets away with being genuinely nasty, because she is so obviously not serious on any level.The rules for white girls are pretty clear. They can be silly and frivolous. They can have black gal pals as sassy sidekicks. They can talk about clothes, shoes, and MEN. They can be discounted. But to be flawed individuals who say and do foolish things but are serious about themselves and their friends? Who put themselves at the center of their own lives?That is taboo, it seems. I hope all this negativity will not put an end to this quite fascinating show. Sure, I think most women are grown up by the time they get into their 20's, but many aren't. While we laud immaturity in young men (and even in old men) we find it horrible in women and even dangerous, but as "Girls" shows, the endangered ones are the young women themselves who don't yet have the means to cope with what the world throws at them.
Like everyone else these days I've seen a lot of films, a lot of television too, and this is the first program that in any way reminds me of this period of my life: the late teens and early 20's.
Oh, and Lena Dunham mentions among her favorite reads Mary Gaitskill and Alain De Botton. I consider them so eccentric, and it thrills me to think that Dunham likes them too.