Anxious Intellects

Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values

Anxious Intellects

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: April 2000

Author: John Michael

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Science and Technology Studies

Intellectuals occupy a paradoxical position in contemporary American culture as they struggle both to maintain their critical independence and to connect to the larger society. In Anxious Intellects John Michael discusses how critics from the right and the left have conceived of the intellectual’s role in a pluralized society, weighing intellectual authority against public democracy, universal against particularistic standards, and criticism against the respect of popular movements. Michael asserts that these Enlightenment-born issues, although not “resolvable,” are the very grounds from which real intellectual work must proceed.
As part of his investigation of intellectuals’ self-conceptions and their roles in society, Michael concentrates on several well-known contemporary African American intellectuals, including Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West. To illuminate public debates over pedagogy and the role of university, he turns to the work of Todd Gitlin, Michael Bérubé, and Allan Bloom. Stanley Fish’s pragmatic tome, Doing What Comes Naturally, along with a juxtaposition of Fredric Jameson and Samuel Huntington’s work, proves fertile ground for Michael’s argument that democratic politics without intellectuals is not possible. In the second half of Anxious Intellects, Michael relies on three popular conceptions of the intellectual—as critic, scientist, and professional—to discuss the work of scholars Constance Penley, Henry Jenkins, the celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking, and others, insisting that ambivalence, anxiety, projection, identification, hybridity, and various forms of psychosocial complexity constitute the real meaning of Enlightenment intellectuality. As a new and refreshing contribution to the recently emergent culture and science wars, Michael’s take on contemporary intellectuals and their place in society will enliven and redirect these ongoing debates.


“By scrutinizing the ideal of objectivity so revered by intellectuals, Michael brings us face-to-face with our own personal and possibly skewed notions of truth—an insight crucial to living in our multicultural, multifaceted society.” — Nicole Duclos , Utne Reader

“Every one of these chapters is lively and valuable, and shows Michael’s firmness and subtlety of mind, his dual commitments to expressive clarity and disciplinary complexity, especially when acting as an English professor leading an interdisciplinary tour. . . . Analyses of intellectual bad faith in liberatory pedagogy, utopian cultural studies, and the fascination with public-sphere physicist Stephen Hawking are particular standouts.” — William J. Maxwell , Politics and Culture

“The debate that has followed the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre provides a fascinating case study of intellectuals and political mobilization . . . . As John Michael notes, so much has been said about intellectuals, and yet even the terms of the debate about the identity, function, and future of intellectuals are radically unclear. One of the virtues of Michael’s Anxious Intellects is that it makes clearer the contours of the terrain of discussion about progressive intellectuals. . . . Michael’s book is a wonderful post-post-modern reminder of the place and dilemmas of intellectuals . . . .” — Chamsy El-Ojeili , New Political Science

“This exciting account touches on the most difficult questions in American public discourse.” — Library Journal

Anxious Intellects introduces fresh material and a generally new tone into the discussion of the quarrels now familiarly known as the culture wars. Readers will welcome its efforts to disabuse parties on both sides of some of their more comforting fantasies about intellectual labor and to move the debate about intellectuals and politics onto more fruitful terrain.” — Ellen Rooney, Brown University

Anxious Intellects is a state-of-the-art assessment of the function of intellectuals at the turn of the century. Michael’s astute and generous commentary on recent developments in this long tradition is especially relevant, coming at a time when human intelligence is becoming the staple industrial unit of the new economy.” — Andrew Ross, New York University

“Seeking ‘an embattled middle ground,’ Michael offers sustained and always astute commentary on the mixed results of the intellectual’s status in the United States today.” — Chris Newfield, University of California, Santa Barbara


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Michael is teaches in the department of English at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Emerson and Skepticism: The Cipher of the World.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Fundamental Confusion

Part One: Cultural Authority, Enlightenment Traditions, and Professional Anxiety

1. Publicity: Black Intellectuals as Inorganic Rerpresentatives

2. Pedagogy: Enlightened Instruction as Oppressive Discipline

3. Community: Pragmatism as a Profession of Anxiety

4. Culture: Western Traditions and Intellectual Treason

Part Two: Projected Identities, Universal Illusions, and Democratic Discourse

5. The Critic: Cultural Studies and Adorno’s Ghost

6. The Scientist: Disembodied Intellect and Popular Utopias

7. The Professional: Science Wars and Interdisciplinary Studies

Conclusion: Tattered Maps




Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2496-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2460-7
Publicity material