George Scialabba Seminar – Updated, and with Links Added

by Henry Farrell on August 6, 2009

Below find the final contributions to the seminar on George Scialabba’s _What Are Intellectuals Good For?_ ( buy from Barnes and Noble – preferred option since it often runs reviews by George, Scott and others, and is actively recommending the book in its “excellent review section”:, Powells, Amazon) over the next few days. We’re really happy to have George with us – he is a frequent CT commenter, and, more importantly, one of the great public intellectuals of our time. A lot of the discussion will focus on the question of what role, if any, public intellectuals should play in modern culture.

The seminar is made publicly available under a Creative Commons license (see the PDF for details). All posts in the seminar are “here”: Those who prefer to read the seminar as a PDF can find it “here”: Those who want to play with the TeX file can find it “here”: Those who prefer to work in Markdown can find it “here”:

The non-CT authors:

_Russell Jacoby_ is professor of history at UCLA. He is the author of numerous books, most relevantly including _The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe_ (Powells, Amazon), and updated in his article, “Big Brains, Small Impact”: (available for free until very recently at the _Chronicle of Higher Education)

_Aaron Swartz_ was one of the founders of Reddit, helped write the simple markup language Markdown (which has been used to format this seminar) and is involved in sundry other causes and activities in the area where information technology and politics intersect.

_Rich Yeselson_ is a research coordinator in the Strategic Organizing Center of the labor federation, Change to Win, and the Zelig of the American intellectual left.



lemuel pitkin 08.06.09 at 3:49 pm

What a wonderful seminar! This is some of the best stuff I’ve read on the web in quite a while.

As always, tho, a plea: Could you think about changing the format of these things?

Putting up 6 or 8 or 10 posts on the same book, plus the author’s response, in just a couple of days really does no one any favors. It means none of the posts gets the attention they deserve. And it cripples discussion, since the same basic questions are being talked about in half a dozen different threads. Several posts in this seminar, that probably would have attracted dozens of comments under normal circumstances, have just three or four, because they are competing with all the other Scialabba posts. And of course almost all the non-seminar posts get pushed off the front page, even if they were still having active conversations in comments.

I don’t know how important the CT comments community is to you all. But to the extent it is, I would really recommend you change the seminar format. Either:

(a) Spread out the seminar posts over a longer period, putting up just one or two or day. (This will also make it easier for the author to respond.) Or,

(b) Create a separate page for the seminar rather than putting it on the main page, with (perhaps) a single shared comments section. You could leave a pointer to it at the top of the main page, in that case, to make sure it’s not ignored.

Just my two cents. And again, this was great!


bert 08.06.09 at 5:11 pm

I agree with Lemuel Pitkin.
Like him I want to emphasise my positive feedback. What a thoroughly nice chap George comes across as. It sucks that life often gives the best people rocks to roll uphill. Good on you, George. More power to you.

I also want to chip in on the format.
I think Lemuel’s suggestion a) is a good one.
His suggestion b) could risk reducing the number of comments further.
In general he’s right that there’s a problem right now with the seminar contributions running alongside regular posts, and being presented in an identical format. Regular posts are come-as-you-are. Seminar posts, as with real-world seminars, assume some prior reading, or thought, or preparation. There’s a discussion of this towards the end of Rich Yeselson’s post, and with the current format as it is, I have to say I’m kind of sympathetic to the two people who complained (while amused at them choosing a thread about Christopher Lasch to ask that things be made easier for them).
Maybe the format can be fixed with formatting. Just as a post’s author shows up differently in the comments thread, seminar posts could be given a different look with CSS. Doesn’t have to be anything too dramatic.


Henry 08.07.09 at 11:42 am

Thanks for the input. The posts went up two a day, which was within Lemuel’s limit. We could think about spreading them out further. I am not sure that doing the seminars on a different page would work, given our current set-up – my observation of blogs that do this (TPM) is that the number of comments is dramatically smaller on the side blog discussion. If we had critical mass (maybe one of these seminars every month or couple of weeks), the problem would be mitigated – but given work commitments in real job, that is going to have to wait until some indulgent think tank with a penchant for leftleaning intellectual discussion buys out a couple of my lecture courses …

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