Wednesday, July 15, 2009

McLemee @ 250

At 250 "Intellectual Affairs" columns, that is... Scott McLemee hit that number today at Inside Higher Education with a customarily fab column about Isaac Rosenfeld that will have you diving into your nearest library for a copy of the essayist and novelist's posthumous anthology, An Age of Enormity.

One of the terrific nuggets that McLemee unearths in this column is a transcript of a talk that Rosenfeld gave to the staff of The Chicago Review in 1956 -- a talk published in that same magazine the following year. A bit of it goes into a back-and-forth I've been having recently with a good friend in academe about the difference between that life and the life of the independent public intellectual type.

McLemee writes that in Rosenfeld's view, "Writers had to earn an income, and working in academe was one option. (About teaching, the transcript shows that Rosenfeld twice said, simply, 'It’s a living.') But for any serious writer there was no escape from the need, if necessary, to go it alone -- to trust one’s sense of the important, even if no committee welcomes the effort. Intuition had to be developed, not ambition."

He then goes on to quote a bit of Rosenfeld's talk that amplifies -- and maybe even (self) dramatizes -- the (non)role of the writer:

...the role that is not a role; to be the living man, the one left alone at three o’clock in the morning, when it’s always the dark night of the soul; to be the man whom one encounters when there is no longer any uniform to wear… to be the man who is naked, who is alone, and the man who pretty much of the time is afraid: the man who sees himself as he really is in this flesh and in these bones and in these feelings, in these impulses, in these emotions; the man who confronts himself in his dreams and his reveries; the man who sees himself walking across the street, thinking there but for the grace of God go I, or in his envy: there but for God’s disdain of me I could have gone…. He has to see the light and the truth that can be seen even in our phony and artificial age.

Congratulations, Scott. And many many more of these columns, please.

Bonus McLemee can always be found at his blog, Quick Study. One recent post pointed readers to the Washington City Paper's coverage of sextweets at the American Library Association meeting. Hee-larious... especially when a rogue librarian shuts the convention hijinks down.

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