I would like to indulge in a classic activity that people over thirty have enjoyed for ever since the leading cause of death among humans ceased to be “killed by sabretooth tiger”: mourning the loss of a time and place that never was.
Much as Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner wishes to return to an America of strong unions, high taxes, and virulent racism, I feel a certain sense of mourning for the seeming loss of a certain brand of intellectualism.
I was partly inspired by reading this article on the feeling that the traditional black canon has lost its place in the development of young, black collegians.
I wonder whether young people entering college still feel the drive to read the classics of the intellectual canon. Do their bookshelves have copies of The Communist Manifesto, Howl, Naked Lunch, or God and Man at Yale (for the young conservatives out there)?
A friend famously noted that half of the movements we (my friends and I) made towards this intellectual canon were driven by hormones – we thought that, perhaps, there were some girls out there who might be intrigued by a man who could quote from either subversive political tracts or dirty-minded poetry from the Beats. But we did move towards it.
And I can still remember that first flush of discovery (much mocked by our parents, when they overheard us) of these seminal figures. Even though virtually all of them were long dead, we could still feel their subversive power and authority.
When hundreds of thousands of people read the latest poorly reasoned drivel by Glenn Beck, one wonders if anyone bothers to read and be amazed anymore by the intellectual “heft” or a true giant, like the late conservative public intellectual, William F. Buckley? Have the recent rantings against socialism driven anyone to pick up The Darkness at Noon by the once famed anti-communist Arthur Koestler?
If these books are no longer regularly read by young college students, what have we, as a culture lost?
I know that I am probably mourning for a place and time and that never were (much as Boehner is mourning for a myth of the American past the only exists in his head). But I still mourn.