The Plight and Possibility of the Public Intellectual

 Public Intellectuals, while seldom rolling in riches, are often fabulously endowed with love. As such a one, this humble correspondent shouts, “Praise to All That Is for love!”

This humble correspondent’s wife and true love—bless her heart for casting in her lot with such a one—has embarked on a magnificent undertaking recently. This entry into the annals of the Southeast Review of Media, Culture, and Politics both invites readers to ponder this mission, as well as to consider supporting it, and provides a brief discourse on the nature of life in the realm of the ‘nerd-without-portfolio,’ the intellectual-without-institutional-backing, the Public Intellectual.

Public intellectuals(P.I.) are philosophers, researchers, investigators, scribes, or some combination of these and other occupations, whose only allegiance is to the need of their fellow cousins for information, ideas, analysis and so on. They do not necessarily receive funding from non-governmental organizations or foundations; they certainly are not on the payroll of any commercial enterprise; the availability of advertising dollars is rare or nonexistent.

They, like this humble correspondent(THC), follow the lead of Alduous Huxley’s character  in Point, Counterpoint, who, speaking to his disinherited lover—she, after all, had the temerity to adore a P.I.—says, “the likes of us have to live by our wits.” Making ends meet is a constant scramble.

The continuation of their work depends on this too. Thus, many P.I.’s have income unrelated to labor. They inherit funds; they marry money that avoids disinheritance; they win a lottery somewhere.

Alas, for some of the breed, as for THC and his sweet love, this cash from largesse is generally unavailable. So they cut wood, deliver pizzas, or sell their brains to clients and strangers who will on occasion pay for their wit. After all, P.I.’s today live, along with the rest of modern humankind, in the same market-economy that puts a price tag on just about everything.

Sometimes, a new mechanism appears that offers an opportunity to garner income for their work. This is the case with a website like KickStarter, which gives ‘creative’ sorts a chance to pitch their projects to all manner of family, friends, and barely-known others.

Neither THC nor his spouse had much optimism that the KickStarter project in question here would permit them to gather monies to move our work forward. Unexpectedly, a combination of long hours by Alicia and the generosity of some of her long standing friends and newer acquaintances, along with the assistance of quite a few random strangers, has brought us to within striking distance of our goal.

A patron of Alicia’s brilliance has promised to post the final thousand dollars of the $3,200 goal, if the program achieves the feat of getting pledges for $2,200. As of today, 2/1/2012, we are within about a thousand dollars of that goal, with two days remaining in which to prove our mettle and put together that additional funding.

Thus, this missive requests that readers consider what Public Intellectuals are worth. Alicia’s project—joining wood-canvases sculpted by weather and water with a reconfiguration of the work of J.M.W. Turner, one of the great rebels and visionaries of the artistic canon—is inherently worthy in its own right. It imagines artistic production as a statement about water and nature and people’s relationship to this web of life that has woven us in its skein.

In addition, the funding of this work proffers the best chance for the roots that we have begun to put down in Appalachia to maintain and deepen their grip. This enterprise of ours is bringing to the fore questions of social justice, community capacitation, and the development of Peoples Information Networks and Cultural Action Networks. Perhaps those who appreciate THC’s efforts in regard to Troy Davis, understanding Peak Oil, bringing to light the hidden spects of nuclear history, explicating the stories of true heroes like Smedley Butler, and more, will find in their hearts—not to mention in their consideration of their self-interest—a willingness to donate a small amount to this campaign, and to reach out to others to do the same.

We here in Western North Carolina are ‘in it for the long haul,’ as the saying goes. But the potential in this project, if it can come to pass, would certainly make the short-run seem a little more manageable. As well, of course, a tremendously beautiful and meaningful series of paintings would result.

What could be finer? A few dollars helps to advance people power and the manifestation of meaningful beauty.

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