Scholarship is a Lifestyle

Here, I paraphrase C.W. Mills, in "On Intellectual Craftsmanship": "Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career." That essay reminds me a lot of a social worker I once knew whose only view on Freud's relevance was that studying him was mandatory in college - her life experience with people needing help, and incredibly broad reading, brought her the wisdom she felt was more rewarding for all parties. Mills ends his essay writing: "Do not allow public issues as they are officially formulated, or the troubles as they are privately felt, to determine the problems that you take up for study. Above all, do not give up your moral and political economy".
The essay is music to my ears, because I so often feel alone. Yesterday, for these reasons, I was also returning to Trilling's The Liberal Imagination. I thought to myself, reading this is like therapy - wherein the therapy is discovering that some of one's own concerns were relevant to others, too.
Henry James' view that life is so much the worse if there are no examples of artists concerned over their art; integrity in art: "there's a rudimentary intellectual honour to which we must, in the interest of civilization, at least pretend". This is met by Hicks': "But this is the purest romanticism, this writing about what ought to be rather than what is!" Scruples are outmoded.
In a footnote, we read that where religion remains, it is contorted and thus deprived of its possibility to act. "Religion nowadays has the appearance of what the ideal modern house has been called, 'a machine for living,' and seemingly one makes up one's mind to acquire and use it not with spiritual struggle but only with a growing sense of its practicability and convenience."
All these decades later, Trilling's critique remains relevant - except that we have moved so far down that road of "machines for living" that mere mention of morals is drowned out by the buzz of electric current. I feel so alone in this landscape, and as foolish as a character in the James/Hicks disagreement: there is no middle ground, there. The middle ground is where ideas can be carried over. Without it, there is only war, the enemy camp, and war is so unbecoming.
"But it is always a little too late for mind, yet never too late for honest stupidity; always too late for understanding, never to late for righteous, bewildered wrath; always too late for thought, never too late for naive moralizing."
These problems may be offset by a responsible, thinking class - living scholarship. But look at what Mills wrote over half a century ago: "The academic ... is trying to carry on a serious intellectual life in a social context that often seems quite set against it. His or her prestige must make up for many of the dominant values sacrificed by choosing an academic career." Today, it would be easiest to play the scholar on one's own payroll. But what if one does not have such luxury?


Brush. Photo in background: Marie Claire Idées.
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