A richly textured work of history and a powerful contribution to contemporary cultural debate, Absent Minds provides the first full-length account of 'the question of intellectuals' in twentieth-century Britain - have such figures ever existed, have they always been more prominent or influential elsewhere, and are they on the point of becoming extinct today? Recovering neglected or misunderstood traditions of reflection and debate from the late nineteenth century through to the present, Stefan Collini challenges the familiar cliche that there are no 'real' intellectuals in Britain. The book offers a persuasive analysis of the concept of 'the intellectual' and an extensive comparative account of how this question has been seen in the USA, France, and elsewhere in Europe. There are detailed discussions of influential or revealing figures such as Julien Benda, T. S. Eliot, George Orwell, and Edward Said, as well as trenchant critiques of current assumptions about the impact of specialization and celebrity.
Throughout, attention is paid to the multiple senses of the term 'intellectuals' and to the great diversity of relevant genres and media through which they have communicated their ideas, from pamphlets and periodical essays to public lectures and radio talks. Elegantly written and rigorously argued, Absent Minds is a major, long-awaited work by a leading intellectual historian and cultural commentator, ranging across the conventional divides between academic disciplines and combining insightful portraits of individuals with sharp-edged cultural analysis.
Stefan Collini is Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Clare Hall. A frequent contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, and other periodicals both in Britain and the USA, his previous books include Public Moralists (1991), Matthew Arnold: a Critical Portrait (1994), and English Pasts (1999). He is a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society.
Introduction: The Question of Intellectuals ; PART ONE: THE TERMS OF THE QUESTION ; 1. The History of a Word ; 2. A Matter of Definition ; PART TWO: FONDER HEARTS ; 3. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes ; 4. Of Light and Leading ; 5. Highbrows and Other Aliens ; 6. The Long 1950s I: Happy Families ; 7. The Long 1950s II: Brave Causes ; 8. From New Left to Old Chestnut ; PART THREE: COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES ; 9. In their Natonal Habitat ; 10. Greener Grass: Letters from America ; 11. The Peculiarities of the French ; 12. The Translation of the Clerks ; PART FOUR: SOME VERSIONS OF DENIAL ; 13. Clerisy or Undesirables: T. S. Eliot ; 14. Professional Cackling: R. G. Collingwood ; 15. Other People: George Orwell ; 16. Nothing to Say: A. J. P. Taylor ; 17. No True Answers: A. J. Ayer ; PART FIVE: REPEAT PERFORMANCES ; 18. Outsider Studies: The Glamour of Dissent ; 19. Media Studies: A Discourse of General Ideas ; 20. Long Views I: Specialization and its Discontents ; 21. Long Views II: From Authority to Celebrity? ; Epilogue: No Elsewhere