Sunday, October 30, 2011

Revolting Intellectuals

Public intellectuals have often been prominent in protest politics, and the Occupy movement has attracted plenty of thinkers

"Sartre: be brief, be clear", was the disconcerting message Jean-Paul Sartre found on a lectern before he addressed angry French students in 1968. When Sartre had earlier interrupted work on his giant Flaubert biography to offer support to those occupying the Sorbonne, there were no such embarrassments. But Danny Cohn-Bendit, the uprising's main spokesman, said he was neither inspiration nor mentor, and also dismissed as "a joke" claims that Herbert Marcuse, author of One-Dimensional Man, was their "intellectual leader" ("none of us had read him"). Revolts against fathers don't need fathers.

More than 40 years later, Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs (including Occupy London) have been similarly backed and courted by intellectuals. Naomi Klein, Jeffrey Sachs, Cornel West and Slavoj Žižek are among those who have spoken to the New York or Boston protesters. Naomi Wolf was arrested while backing a related demo. Noam Chomsky delivered a public lecture in Boston. Writers, including Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, have signed the Occupy Writers online petition. There's the same sense as in 1968, though, that the protest is its own thing and gurus are nice accessories but not necessary; the witticism about Marcuse saying "they are my followers, so I must follow them" sometimes seems applicable. MORE

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