Phoebe ponders the Yale Herald‘s cover story on the search for the “Yale intellectual” and the different contextual meanings of the term:
here, “intellectual” as a term, as a marker of identity, is establishment, is upper-class white maleness. of course. but at ihs, intellectual, not those things already, was so entirely disestablishment, so entirely a rebellion against the student-governmentized majority (was it a majority, or did it just seem so, i wonder now?). intellectual was such a blatant marker of excludedness, a term infused with so much not belonging, a term disdainfully refused by the included…intellectual was not about the western canon (nobody gave a damn about a handful of white, european philosophers virtually no one read) but about the personhood of the less-formally-accepted folk. and owning the term was an empowering tool.
On the one hand, as I told the Herald,
I think that too often “intellectualism” is used as a convenient cipher to avoid discussing class – saying you prefer people who share an intellectual perspective is easier for many people than saying that you feel more comfortable around people who share the same amount of privilege. While intellectual may be an adjective that has meaning in describing activities, or spheres of individuals’ lives, I think it’s difficult to use intellectual as a noun to identify people without implicitly creating a boundary between those who count as intellectuals and those who do not.
And on the other hand – the part of the interview they didn’t print – I think “Anti-intellectualism” is also too convenient a mask for privilege, as it gives cover for the super-rich – like our current President – to feign a faux populism when shooting down progressive ideas by associating them with a mythical “cultural elite.”
Intellectualism at Yale has another meaning as well though – a pursuit of ideas divorced from their impact on the surrounding world – an unfortunate excuse for avoiding the education that comes from challenging your ideals in you interactions in the world. To me the letters I received from administrators during strikes here, telling me that my responsibility was to cross working peoples’ picket lines to get to class and learn how to be a leader, represent the worst contortion of intellectualism. And if being an intellectual college student means – as administrators here have suggested by their instructions in times of crisis – being sat on for four years in order to then hatch and go on to face the outside world, then I want none of it.
And yet, I know what Phoebe means when she writes,
i can’t but feel sad that the word has been taken away from me