Intellectual life is a way to recover one’s real value when it is denied recognition by the power plays and careless judgments of social life. That is why it is a source of dignity. In ordinary social life, knowledge is exchanged for money or for power, for approval or for a sense of belonging, to mark out superiority in status or to achieve a feeling of importance. These are our common currencies, our ways of advancing ourselves or diminishing others. But since a human being is more than his or her social uses, other, more fundamental ways of relating are possible. These forms of communion can consist in the joyful friendship of bookworms or the gritty pursuit of the truth about something together with people one would otherwise find unbearable.
What good is intellectual life? It is a refuge from distress; a reminder of one’s dignity; a source of insight and understanding; a garden in which human aspiration is cultivated; a hollow of a wall to which one can temporarily withdraw from the current controversies to gain a broader perspective, to remind oneself of one’s universal human heritage. All this makes clear at the least that it is an essential good for human beings, even if one good among others.
Other reading notes:
I finished Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents (1998). If you missed this New Yorker article, when I linked it after reading Parable of the Sower, make time for it now.
I’m on Chapter 51 of The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a brisker pace than Robin proposed, but that’s all right.
I’m also reading Tommy Orange’s There There (2018) with The Deep Read.
Dirty John reawakened my dormant obsession with Betty Broderick, so I am revisiting Bryna Taubman’s Hell Hath No Fury (1992) and Bella Stumbo’s Until the Twelfth of Never (1993). Related article here. I love that showrunner Alexandra Cunningham “has been obsessed with the Broderick story since she was a teenager and read journalist Bella Stumbo’s book … so often that she stole it from the library.”