One of the great mysteries of academic life concerns the mechanics of writing for a non-specialist audience. The loftier questions of what it means to be a public intellectual have been debated to death. But the more pertinent issue, I think, pertains to how one deploys (or decides not to deploy) the raw materials of historical scholarship when drafting essays for readers who are not working historians or humanities professionals.
I confess that I don’t know how to write about this meta-question, even as I continue to think that it is something we ought to discuss amongst ourselves.
To compensate for this failure of imagination, I offer up an essay that I wrote for the excellent magazine Real Life that was published recently: http://reallifemag.com/the-laugherators/
As I wrote and revised this essay, I learned that I wanted to bring a few theoretical texts into the discussion: Bernard Stiegler’s essay on Facebook (published in translation in the Lacanian journal Umbr(a)), John Protevi’s excellent study Political Affect, Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings, Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, Linda Hutcheon’s Irony’s Edge, and Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies.
From Stiegler, I wanted to extract a non-moralizing and non-Luddite critique of social media qua technological innovation; from Protevi, a materialist theory of affect; from Ngai and Fisher, a theorization of the politics of resentment; from Hutcheon a review of the dangerous mechanics of indirection; and from Theweleit, an indictment of the sexual politics of Western Marxism.
Was any of this successful? Who knows.
Should anyone want to discuss anything related to this, in either process or content terms (or both), and in relation to the formal challenges of writing for the public in a more general sense, we would welcome that kind of dialogue in the comments section.
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