These words from Alice Jardine's At the Risk of Thinking: An Intellectual Biography of Julia Kristeva are really wonderful words on the importance of trying to be an intellectual today.
Jardine starts out by talking about why she cares enough to write a book about an intellectual.
I care in large part because in our still early part of the twenty- first century, there is in my opinion no more urgent matter than developing through dialogue, debate, and practice a new model of the intellectual.
Next Jardine names and describes this new model of an intellectual, the sort of intellectual she believes Kristeva to be, a contestatory intellectual.
Through her emphasis on the need for an urgent revival of the humanities, does a new model of the intellectual emerge that is viable for the twenty-first century as we are living it? I think it does. Is it a compelling model? I think it is. The contestatory intellectual: that is what Kristeva calls it.
This concept is great! (At least I think it is.) To be an intellectual in this time one must be able to contest. This does not mean that the intellectual must contest, but that the intellectual has the capacity to contest, even when contesting comes at a cost.
Later, Jardine goes on to say,
I remain fascinated by Kristeva’s work in an unresolved way. [In wirting this book, I'm engaging with Kristeva's thinking and] I am also searching for an etiology that is not an origin, but rather a start to figuring out what it means to be an intellectual in the twenty-first century. Not an aesthete. Not an expert. Not a politician. Not even a scholar. Rather, what Kristeva calls a contestatory intellectual. That is what I try to be, but it is hard. I have not succeeded yet as I write these words.
What I really adore about this bit of text is two things.
First, how it describes how being a contestatory intellectual is something that means not residing within the comforts of other familiar ideals (aesthete/critic, expert, politician, scholar/academic). I take this to mean that being a contestatory intellectual is to accept one's status as One-all-alone.
Second, I really like the last two sentences
[a contestory intellectual] is what I try to be, but it is hard. I have not succeeded yet as I write these words.
They are a simple expression of how hard it is to be a contestatory intellectual, and that it is a project that is never completed.
I picked this book up after listening to Jardin being interviewed on New Books in Critical Theory. I started to read the introduction thinking I just wanted to get a general feel for the book, but the text really sucked me in. I suspect I'll be reading this even though I've got (many) other texts I'm already reading.