I love archives. I am forever finding amazing things I never would have thought of in them. Sometimes it’s a slog, but never without rewards. I thought I would share one of the rewards with you–my favorite definition of an intellectual ever.
Maxwell Bodenheim in the Dallas Texas News, July 20, 1924, in a symposium edited by Walter Holbrook on “Who are the Young Intellectuals?”
Editors note: We have been writing a number of authors, liberal and conservative to ask what they mean by the term “Young Intellectuals” and whom they consider representative of the school. This week we print Maxwell Bodenheim’s reply, which he himself characterizes as ‘at least……….a straightforward, ironical and vicious departure from the cut-and-dried statements of limited prejudice and elated misconceptions which you have been publishing in your symposium (the fault is not yours, of course)” Mr. Bodenheim is a poet and novelist of highly modern tendencies.
Intellect is a half-logical, half-imaginative struggle against false exteriors, surface semblances, decrepit plausibilities, emotional uproars, and outworn idols accepted and worshiped by large groups of people. It is thought and poetry refusing to be hoodwinked by the realistic pretenses and clamors of life, and forever setting up newer and more daring explanations of the motives, meanings, and essences concealed by life. It is the exquisite, skillful, and at times almost venomous attack on the mental inertia, and emotional complacency which appeals to a majority of human beings, whether they are Socialists or Monarchists. It has little respect for inflexible solutions and ecstatic prohibitions, and it ignores them in favor of an endlessly searching forward motion. It has therefore been disliked in all ages and by hosts of critics, from the early Greek rhapsodists down to H.L. Mencken.
A few different reasons I like this document so much. First of all, this symposium was taking place in a Texas newspaper. It’s hard to imagine a similar dialogue today. Perhaps this is a tiny moment when “intellectual” was not a bad word in the States? More importantly, I like Bodenheim’s definition because it does not automatically make “intellect” and “emotions” utter enemies. It also explains why intellectuals tend toward that impulse labeled disparagingly as “elitist.” Thoughts?