Jürgen Habermas. Photograph: Gorka Lejarcegi.
Jürgen Habermas. Photograph: Gorka Lejarcegi.

In a recent interview for El País, the philosopher Jürgen Habermas addresses the social and cultural conditions that have led to the diminishment of public intellectuals in contemporary discourse:

Q. Has the internet diluted the public sphere that supported the traditional media, which has, in turn, adversely affected philosophers and thinkers?

A. Yes. Since Heinrich Heine, the figure of the intellectual has gained in status along with the classical configuration of the liberal public sphere. However, that depends on implausible social and cultural assumptions, mainly the existence of alert journalism, with newspapers of reference and mass media capable of directing the interest of the majority toward topics that are relevant to the formation of political opinion; and also the existence of a reading population that is interested in politics, educated, accustomed to the conflictive process of forming opinions, and which takes the time to read quality, independent press.

Nowadays, this infrastructure is no longer intact, although as far as I know it still exists in countries such as Spain, France and Germany. But even there, the splintering effect of internet has changed the role of traditional media, particularly for the younger generations. Even before the centrifugal and atomic tendencies of the new media came into force, the commercialization of public attention had already triggered the disintegration of the public sphere. An example is the US and its exclusive use of private TV channels. Now, new means of communication have a much more insidious model of commercialization in which the goal is not explicitly the consumer’s attention, but the economic exploitation of the user’s private profile. They rob customers’ personal data without their knowledge in order to manipulate them more effectively, at times even with perverse political ends, as in the recent Facebook scandal.”

El País

Will Self contributes to The Observer’s ‘My Other Life’ series by pondering an alternative career as an academic
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Will Self

I thought I might be an academic. I read PPE at Oxford and was very interested in Marx, Wittgenstein, Habermas – theories of knowledge and praxis. I applied to do an MPhil, but unfortunately I was busted for drugs before I sat my finals and went into something of a tailspin. I would’ve been a crap academic anyway – like most novelists I’m only really interested in being interested. When I left university I took a job as a driver/labourer for a builder in Stoke Newington. I lasted about six months and was about to get a raise when – feeling my Tolstoyan Pierre moment ending – I threw it over. A succession of deadend jobs followed, strung together by the cartoons I published in the New Statesman and other small left-wing periodicals. The only proper suit-and-tie job I’ve had in my life was the two years in the late 1980s when I ran a small corporate publishing company. I even had a Ford Sierra! Actually, I quite enjoyed it, and learned about every element of the publishing process, from copy editing to layout to print. I wrote my first book, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, in the early mornings before the rest of the staff came in for the day. [Read More]

From an article by Alex Ross (New Yorker)

ad2be-bremer-adorno-benjaminIn Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 novel, “The Corrections,” a disgraced academic named Chip Lambert, who has abandoned Marxist theory in favor of screenwriting, goes to the Strand Bookstore, in downtown Manhattan, to sell off his library of dialectical tomes. The works of Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Fredric Jameson, and various others cost Chip nearly four thousand dollars to acquire; their resale value is sixty-five. “He turned away from their reproachful spines, remembering how each of them had called out in a bookstore with a promise of a radical critique of late-capitalist society,” Franzen writes. After several more book-selling expeditions, Chip enters a high-end grocery store and walks out with an overpriced filet of wild Norwegian salmon.

Anyone who underwent a liberal-arts education in recent decades probably encountered the thorny theorists associated with the Institute for Social Research, better known as the Frankfurt School. Their minatory titles, filled with dark talk of “Negative Dialectics” and “One-Dimensional Man,” were once proudly displayed on college-dorm shelves, as markers of seriousness; now they are probably consigned to taped-up boxes in garages, if they have not been discarded altogether. Once in a while, the present-day Web designer or business editor may open the books and see in the margins the excited queries of a younger self, next to pronouncements on the order of “There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (Walter Benjamin) or “The whole is the false” (Adorno). (more…)