Edward Said once noted that part of what we do as intellectuals is “not only to define the situation, but also to discern the possibilities for active intervention, whether we then perform them ourselves or acknowledge them in others who have either gone before or are already at work, the intellectual as lookout.” A little more than a decade after this observation we are more likely to say, “Lookout, intellectual!” This is not a product of anti-intellectualism per se (which nevertheless has a long-standing history in the United States) but a reflection of the changed manner in which the figurai language of the public intellectual even becomes possible. Said, of course, remains exemplary of the idea of a public intellectual not just because of his extraordinary work in the very fraught space of the public sphere, particularly over the fate of Palestinians and Palestine, but because he provided a critical vocabulary for how the intellectual could forcefully participate in public debate. From the outset, it has to be noted that, despite the demonstrably transnational and/or cosmopolitan outlook of the public intellectual, its imprimatur is primarily American, or America-centered and may explain why the public intellectual is, if not already extinct, on the wane (the correlative European discourse on the intellectual does not generally use this qualifier, “public”). But what if the public intellectual sheds its past, lets go of the authority and critique made possible, ironically, by the United States hegemonic function on the world stage?
KeywordsPublic Sphere Public Debate Liberal Democracy Public Intellectual Cultural Logic
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