The meta-professorby Theo / February 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in February 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
No single chair can hold him. Extraordinarily distinguished, peripatetic, pluralistic and polyvalent, the modern professor-at-large is at once seminarist, syncretist and symposiast. Hermeneutic here, interdisciplinary there, he wags a variety of tongues. Historian, sociologist, theosebast, aesthetician, eco-no-mist, philosophe, what funded continent dares call him foreigner?
Never Hilaire Belloc’s remote and ineffectual don, the modern professor has a global reach; he would prefer to be monastically abstruse, but the intellectual Camillus simply cannot not leave his private plough or fail to do his share of pro bono publico (the Treasury may have embargoed Latin tags, but the Herr Doktor’s luggage bristles with them; he also knows what Confucius said, and what T’sai Lun did, which was arguably, today, more significant).
There is no dark corner whither he is not urgently convoked to shed fresh dust. He would hate to tell you how many charitable foundations are actively impugning him with pedestals. He also has to break off with rare frequency to fill the only too popular prints with scourgingly unpopular opinions. In principle, the professor hates journalism (he remembers, as you must, what Eliot said about Macaulay); to write comprehensible prose is an irksome confinement. Though he hesitates, for a moment, to reveal at what obscenely irrelevant price even his summary services are rewarded, he must ask what we are to read into the sum certain ranking American journals force into his hand for a single conspicuous review. It exceeds what not a few junior lecturers receive quarterly.
Is this insistent mercantilisation of the intellectual a sign of the times? And of what order precisely is it a sign, and what, precisely, are the times? Surely today is, in some sense,…