Why I’m always on the internet…

My friend Peter von Ziegesar, who wrote a very affecting memoir about his brother that you should buy and read (I did!), speaks to PEN America:

I don’t think that the notion of the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion. I think that he or she has moved their place of discourse to another location. Typically in the past the public intellectual, on the model of Susan Sontag, for example, or Norman Mailer, or Gore Vidal, lived in New York and published in esoteric journals, such as The New York Review of Books, or The Nation, and occasionally appeared on the Tonight Show. A friend of mine, Corey Robin, a professor at Brooklyn College who has written several books and fits the role of public intellectual perfectly, in my opinion, told me recently that he originally moved to New York City hoping to discover just such a vibrant pool of committed intellectuals to join and was disappointed when he couldn’t find it. It wasn’t until he started blogging and created his own website that he found that group of individuals he’d been looking for—on the Internet.
It’s true. Thank you, readers and writers on the internet!




  1. Freddie deBoer September 30, 2014 at 11:35 pm | #

    I’ll make an internet cynic out of you yet. But thank you, anyway, for all of it.

    • Corey Robin September 30, 2014 at 11:36 pm | #

      Come to New York. I’ll make you a believer.

      On Tue, Sep 30, 2014 at 11:35 PM, Corey Robin wrote:


    • Corey Robin September 30, 2014 at 11:45 pm | #

      Actually I just checked in on Twitter and realized: you’re right. I take it all back.

  2. Roquentin October 1, 2014 at 12:05 am | #

    For whatever it’s worth I always look forward to your blog entries. Regardless of whether or not I agree (most of the time I do), they always make me think.

    I had hoped to find a similar thing in NYC as well. I used to take part in reading groups organized through Meetup. It is where much of my knowledge of philosophy comes from, since my formal education stopped relatively soon. I guess I still do them occasionally, but not as often. I’m more consumed by work and sloth during my downtime I guess. There are few things I miss about academia, but the open exchange of ideas is one of them.

  3. Hangaku Gozen October 1, 2014 at 1:24 am | #

    I love New York City, but I’ve found great intellectual communities in such far-flung places as Minneapolis, Missoula, Olympia, Sacramento, and Portland. The internet only makes it that much easier to find them. That said, I think this is one of the best political blogs coming out of the US: well-reasoned, funny (sometimes!), and committed to social justice. Thank you for reminding this ex-academic to stay engaged and keep honing her edge.

  4. David Bonney October 1, 2014 at 9:43 am | #

    What an elegant tribute.

  5. jonnybutter October 1, 2014 at 11:38 am | #

    I lived in NYC in the 80s, and there was no internet and I’m pretty sure no ‘salon’ (for lack of…) of the kind Peter mentions, either. Bleak! Death Valley Days, straight ahead!

    It is super lucky that Corey and other interesting people like him take to blogging. It’s because of them that I’d rather have the internet and live just about anywhere in the US, than not and live in NYC (and I love New York).

  6. Peter Dorman October 1, 2014 at 1:10 pm | #

    I agree with the public-intellectuals-are-on-the-internet theme, but I think there are problems to sort out. When I first encountered the networked world back in the late 80s, I was thrilled. Suddenly there were so many interesting people to read and communicate with. For someone who loves the exchange of ideas it was like going from b&w to color. But the online universe got bigger and bigger, and then the web came along in the 90s, and before long there just wasn’t enough time any more. Truth is, there are too many interesting people out there, and you have to find some way of ignoring most of them.

    In the old days we didn’t have to worry about this. Most of our intellectual contacts were first-person and circumscribed by where we were or went. (No doubt why Cory chose NYC.) You could supplement that with reading the generalist intellectual press, like the NYRB, although, for most of us, this was strictly one-way. Now those walls have crumbled, but where do we get our filters? Who reads whom? Who responds and who lurks? What are the communication structures, and what biases do they introduce?

    In my field (economics), we have a small group of celebrity bloggers who became ensconced as public intellectuals either because of their academic fame, their writing chops, their connections to political sponsors, sheer luck, or some combination of the above. There are little pockets of the commentariat scattered about, but hardly anyone I know in the non-virtual world participates in them.

    We understood, more or less, the old world of geography and print, but there is a lot to learn about the evolving virtual universe.

  7. ROM October 2, 2014 at 10:35 am | #

    It is a commonplace that hospitals are often the worst places to be sick. Academic institutions may be the worst places for intellectuals. Coetzee and others have written about “[t]he response of the political class to the university’s claim to a special status in relation to the polity… .” The response has been to deny funding. The Internet has provided a refuge from the destructively competitive, winner-take-all games of the academy.

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