One is entitled "Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?" from the Chronicle of Higher Education and reflects on the writer's years of yearning for a community of dilettantes that recognized the name of Barbara Epstein.
That might sound like an oddly particular expectation. Shouldn't I have hoped — in a broader, more catholic vein — for smart classmates, literate classmates, humane classmates? Well, yes. That would be nice. But if you had asked me what trait I wanted them to share, a trait that in my experience had served as a useful metonymy for the kind of people I want to grab a drink with after work, the trait would be "subscribes to, or just reads in the library, literate, intellectual quarterlies and book reviews." I could find smart, thoughtful, fun, sexy, hilarious people in other precincts of life. What I had never found concentrated in one place were New York Review-type readers.Oppenheimer continues to discuss the divides between academic departments, noting that "The work of public intellectuals is important to young scholars partly because it helps us speak across disciplines." His references rely heavily on graduate school experiences but his main focus is to encourage even specialized grad students to retain a shred of the liberal arts education that most of them probably shared... by being aware of other fields, more conversations can occur between people with different areas of interest. In addition, if the writer of even a very specialized article is widely read and aware of the nonspecialist's perspective, the article is all the more accessible. Opperheimer writes, "When Stephen Jay Gould died of cancer in 2002, my first thought was, 'But who will explain Darwin to everyone?'" It's a well-founded fear that specialists will cocoon themselves into an isolated community, resulting in even an academic audience being totally ignorant of interesting and complicated subjects that are simply not that community's focus. Today, in the publishing world, one sees a large number of popular nonfiction books written on specific topics that presents intense study on a particular subject for a wider audience. The science, history, and cultural awareness of redheads or mauve or salt... I might be the only person reading these books, but I think the world is better for a specialist who can explain his or her field to anyone with a general thirst for knowledge. Oppenheimer seems to agree and to create well-rounded grad school students, he proposes the following:
I have long believed that admissions committees at graduate schools should work very differently. Instead of asking for letters of recommendation from undergraduate thesis advisers, admissions committees should try to figure out if an applicant is an intellectual. They should ask: "What do you read outside your proposed field of study? What are your favorite books? Where would you most like to travel, and why? What periodicals do you read?" If a student has no aspirations to travel, doesn't seem to read much except within her undergraduate major, and shows no interest in academic debates — well, that's a bad candidate for academe. A bright, kind, loyal person, perhaps, who could be a success in many ways. But a bad candidate for the academy that America needs.
The other article is from New York Magazine, entitled the Ma and Pa of Intelligentsia, and actually discusses Robert Silvers' continuing work at the New York Review of Books and the legacy of Barbara Epstein in greater depth. This article also discusses this same sad state of affairs labeled the "death of the public intellectual." As it discusses the changing literary journal landscape, it makes notes of Dave Eggers and his literary empire... the rising appeal of McSweeney's and The Believer which capture the attention of a younger crowd. It discusses the history of the New York Review of Books and ruminates on its future.
And the Review is more than a magazine, more than a collection of talented writers and editors; it’s a world of its own. The combative letters column; the bookish personals; the pages and pages of publishers’ ads; even the real-estate listings for country homes and flats, which define the geography of the Review’s sophisticated readership (Paris, London, Tuscany, New York, San Francisco, Boston): Combine these elements and you have a distinctive identity composed of idiosyncratic customs, habits, styles—in other words, a culture.