lynn garafola replies: Russell Jacoby’s tirade exemplifies all the worst qualities of his book: ad hominem attacks, a refusal to engage with ideas, and an outdated definition of intellectual life. Presented with criticism, he simply reiterates in a similar tone the misconceptions and personal prejudices that make up much of his book.
With regard to my Roladex, alas I have never met many of the intellectuals I mention. Jacoby, however, knows more about promoting a ‘coterie’ than I do. Only friendship with members of the Telos editorial board can explain one of his loonier notions—that this obscurantist journal is a model of intellectual writing for a broad public. Jacoby’s main problem is that he mistakes a change in intellectual life for an absence of intellectual life. Since the 1960s this has come to centre not only on literature and the social sciences but on the visual and performing arts, popular culture, and the mass media. At the same time, insights drawn from the study of race and gender and various post-structuralist methodologies have transformed the content of intellectual writing and the questions behind it. By
Of course, the exclusion of creative artists is highly debatable in a book whose subtitle is ‘American Culture in the Age of Academe’. Jacoby chides me for mentioning Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, but the novelist Gore Vidal keeps popping up in Jacoby’s pages, and he is not above marshalling evidence, when it suits his purpose, from poets and fiction writers linked to the New York intellectuals.
Jacoby objects to my calling him a ‘self-proclaimed leftist’. Actually, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. A political chameleon, Jacoby changes colour with his audience. In New Left Review he trumpets his criticism of Lionel Trilling and the New York intellectuals. But only last spring, at a National Endowment of the Humanities conference on the state of the humanities, Jacoby and neo-conservative ideologue Gertrude Himmelfarb found themselves on the same side, decrying the absence of scholarship that speaks to a broad public. ‘I don’t see the Edmund Wilsons and Lionel Trillings’, said Jacoby. Note, he didn’t ask where are the Paul Sweezys or C. Wright Millses. But that wouldn’t go down well in today’s Washington.