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Re: <nettime> A Puff Piece on Wikipedia (Fwd)
Kermit Snelson on Mon, 6 Oct 2003 04:38:24 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> A Puff Piece on Wikipedia (Fwd)


Keith Hart:

> The dialectics of intellectual work interests me and I believe that
> the examples I gave threw some light on that political question.

The dialectics of intellectual work are indeed interesting, as Keith
points out.  That theme, in fact, is the very core of Straussianism.
But Straussian writings have both exoteric and esoteric meanings, a
message that Strauss's "Persecution and the Art of Writing" relates
exoterically by "discovering" this trait, as does Kelly, in the work
of past authors.

Keith has clearly described the exoteric meaning of Kelly's work.  Like
any Straussian text, it points out that intellectuals have always faced
persecution.  Therefore, interpreting any groundbreaking text requires
the careful ferreting-out of ruses and other defense mechanisms, both
in the text itself and in the reader's own psyche.

Keith also hits on another "exoteric" principle of Straussianism, which
is that the great authors of the past, however remote, hold valid and
vital political lessons for our own time.  When we think of authors who
were persecuted in the past, our minds are supposed to turn to those
who are persecuted today.  And so nettime duly called to mind Salman
Rushdie, and the Islamic clerics who issued the fatwa against him, and
this explains why Straussianism has also appointed to itself not-so-
recondite ferreting-out tasks:  the kind carried out not in graduate
seminars, but on battlefields.

So much for the exoteric aspect of Kelly's text.  What I was trying to
add to Keith's analysis was the esoteric meaning.  The true conundrum at
the heart of intellectual work is not the fact that it is sometimes
persecuted, but that it must be paid for, and that it has never been
able to pay for itself.  Intellectuals and artists have always relied on
patronage, patronage depends on plunder, and plunder depends on deceit
and exploitation.  Who, after all, paid for Europe's cathedrals?  Who
paid for Beethoven's sonatas?  Who pays for universities today?  In a
very real sense, Straussianism is nothing but a formula for plunder and
deceit, all for the sake of making the "philosophical" life possible.

Straussians have always taught that to avoid persecution, the authors of
the Great Books have always written down exactly the opposite of what
they meant.  Whether or not that is true, the Straussians certainly do
not mean to exempt their own books from this principle.  And when we
therefore read in a Straussian text the assertion that the intellectual
life requires liberty, it actually means quite the opposite.  Followers
of Leo Strauss have since left the classroom and are in command of news
networks and armies.  So the plunder, deceit and tyranny for which they
have always stood are now plain for anybody, elite or not, to see.
Hence the reason for the sorrow and anger of my last post.

I don't think many here are immune to the pleasures of the intellectual
or artistic life.  I certainly am not.  But to be honest with ourselves,
we must look deep into what intellectualism means.  Rousseau certainly
did.  His "Confessions" are exactly such a look, and he says himself
that what he describes is a disgusting spectacle.  His contemporaries
largely agreed.  But Christopher Kelly's book about the "Confessions",
"reading between the lines" in orthodox Straussian fashion, claims that
Rousseau actually meant the opposite:  namely that he, Rousseau, claimed
to be greater than Socrates, Cato and Jesus.  Straussians claim this
because they want to convince us that intellectualism is worth killing
for, and this Straussian killing is now going on as we speak.  What I am
trying to ask is a hard and unpleasant (yet thoroughly impersonal)
question to which I myself claim no easy answer:  which side are we, as
intellectuals and artists, really on?

Kermit Snelson

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