Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Public Intellectuals

There used to be a term for independent writers like Susan Sontag. They were known as "public intellectuals." The term, I suppose, could be used to refer to writers of ideas as diverse as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gore Vidal.

Does any writer today qualify? The thoughts of most well-hyped establishment writers like Jonathan Franzen are so banal and trivial they're embarrassing.


  1. Recall that he's a professor at MIT, and so doesn't fit the strict definition I was aiming for. Neither is he a creative writer, or known as a writer, but an advocate and famous for his advocacy. (For that matter, he's more a compiler of arguments and information than a theorist.) I respect the guy, and hate to nitpick-- but you probably have to go to France to find more of what I was talking about!
    (Mailer at least tried to be a public intellectual like Vidal and Sontag.)

  2. Matt Taibi.
    Robert Frank.
    Simon Johnson.

  3. I've never read him, but a lot of people I like really dig Malcolm Gladwell, too.