Wednesday, 30 January 2008


Jean Monet on His Hobby Horse
Jean Monet on His Hobby Horse, by Claude Monet, 1872.
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(Click the cropped image for the full picture.)

Heaven Tree has stirred an old pet subject of mine: intellectualism

1. devotion to intellectual pursuits.
2. the exercise of the intellect.
3. excessive emphasis on abstract or intellectual matters, esp. with a lack of proper consideration for emotions.
4. Philosophy.
xxa. the doctrine that knowledge is wholly or chiefly derived from pure
xxb. the belief that reason is the final principle of reality.

When I get on my hobby horse - which I shan't do now - and complain about the decline of intellectualism, I am referring to downturn in either (or both) quality or quantity of what is described in the first two definitions.

It got me thinking. About myself, who else? I don't consider myself an intellectual per se, although I am not too modest to tell you I do technically satisfy definitions six and seven. I am often content filling my time with low-brow pursuits, too restless to ruminate, to think deep thoughts - sometimes they bubble up by accident, but so does gas - unable to sit down and write this piece in one go.

However, I do feel a strong affinity with intellectual pursuits, even if I'm not the pursuer. I believe there is a place for them and I should be able to visit when I'm so inclined and find them up to scratch when I do. As Heaven Tree said:

I don't know about you, but I would always rather have a long, solitary chat with Conrad about, say, Macrobius, or with Chris about nineteenth century academic art than perorate to millions on TV about a new diet -- or Stephen King (which comes down to the same thing). Wouldn't you?

Please stay in your ivory tower and save me a spot by the fire.

EDIT: PS. Also read this post. That is such a shame. I visited a large wooden building in Bangkok when I was there for work. It was beautiful and seemed much more comfortable than most buildings I saw there.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I honestly don't believe that there is a meaningful difference between so-called high culture and so-called low culture. When the novel "Don Quixote" came out it was considered a trashy potboiler. In the 18th century, reading novels was considered to be intellectual junk food, similar to how we now view TV or video games. For me it's more useful to look at things independently of their labels and see what I can use from it.