Human progress is attributable not only to the rare geniuses who have revolutionized intellectual life, science and technology but also to the journeymen who have used their considerable talents to apply knowledge in their communities. For example, brilliant researchers discover new medicines but communities rely on doctors to use those medications. People routinely make fun of lawyers – until they need one. Despite unfortunate strains of anti-intellectualism in many societies, people turn to turn to those who have developed their talents and abilities through study and practice, in ways that exceed the grasp of the average member of the community.
The writings of intellectually advanced people serve as narratives of their developed gifts.
- Christopher Hitchens, Arguably: Essays (Twelve, 2011).
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (PublicAffairs, 2010).
Diaries of Susan Sontag, who stood apart from “other two-handers, like Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, James Baldwin and Gore Vidal (in) her worship of intellectualism as a goal in itself.”
- Susan Sontag, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (2008).
- Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012).
Books about intelligent people:
- Michelle Dean, Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion (Grove Press, 2018): “Dean gathered these women together, she says in her preface, ‘under the sign of a compliment that every one of them received in their lives: They were called sharp.’”
- Martin Amis, The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018): “Whether he’s eulogizing or skewering, Amis’s formidable wit and intelligene are tempered by occasional flashes of condescension.”
- Ingrid Sischy, Nothing Is Lost: Selected Essays (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018): “If you wanted to know what interested the American artistic and intellectual elite in the 1980s, ’90s and early aughts, you couldn’t find a better, truer hologram than the one provided in her essays during those years. She shows us the glitz of that epoch of celebrity culture as well as the serious, thoughtful concerns of its cutting-edge painters and designers . . .”
- Richard Aldous, Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017): “Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. stood at the intersection of the nation’s cultural and political life.”
- Stephen Budiansky, Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019): “Holmes is the second most influential justice ever to have graced the bench, after Chief Justice John Marshall, who first got the court to overturn laws and set the body on its long path to constitutional supremacy.”
- Wolfram Eilenberger, Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade and Reinvented Philosophy (Penguin, 2020): “. . . focuses on a decade of crisis in Europe — the interwar period between 1919 and 1929 — and argues compellingly that a small cadre of thinkers responded to their turbulent times by reinventing philosophy, an intellectual task that effectively conjured a new world.”
Documentary and Educational Films
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press, 2013): a “judicious and insightful book on human and machine intelligence”
From the dark side:
- Anthony Kronman, The Assault on American Excellence (Free Press, 2019): “The book laments the politicization of academic life.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Mompou’s piano music: consistently thoughtful
- Musica Callada
- Impresiones intimas
- Twelve preludes for piano
- Fêtes lointaines (1920)
- Paisajes (Paysages)
- Magic Songs
- Variations on a theme by Chopin
- Alicia de Larrocha performs Mompou
Xenakis' chamber works:
Music of Jane Antonia Cornish
- Duende: 1. Lontano - Con Anima; 2. Penseroso; 3. Con Fuoco - Tranquillo; 4. Dolente.
- In Luce: 1. Luminoso; 2. Appassionato; 3. Solenne.
- Clair-Obscur: 1. Adagio - Liberamente; 2. ; 3. Capriccioso.
Early symphonies of Karl Amadeus Hartmann:
- Symphony No. 1, “Versuch eines Requiem” (1936)
- Symphony No. 2 (1946)
- Symphony No. 3 (1949)
- Symphony No. 4 (1947)
- Symphony No. 5 (1950)
Music of Ketty Nez:
- double images
- the moon returns
- in transit
- Old Mother of Dzhaferbeg
- Five moments
- Postcard from the 1930s
- timed curves
- wind down ii
- Holmboe, Requiem for Nietszche, M 219, Op. 84 (1964): a contemporary cantata exploring the inner workings of a great ponderer of ideas.
- Godowsky, Piano Sonata in E minor (1911)
- Jeff Albert Quartet, “Similar in the Opposite Way” album: complex, avant-garde jazz with internal movement over time, and direction
- Tim Berne, “Science Friction”
- Anthony Braxton and Gino Robair, “Duets, 1987”
By the side of Enjolras, who represented the logic of the Revolution, Combeferre represented its philosophy. Between the logic of the Revolution and its philosophy there exists this difference--that its logic may end in war, whereas its philosophy can end only in peace. Combeferre complemented and rectified Enjolras. He was less lofty, but broader. He desired to pour into all minds the extensive principles of general ideas: he said: "Revolution, but civilization"; and around the mountain peak he opened out a vast view of the blue sky. The Revolution was more adapted for breathing with Combeferre than with Enjolras. Enjolras expressed its divine right, and Combeferre its natural right. The first attached himself to Robespierre; the second confined himself to Condorcet. Combeferre lived the life of all the rest of the world more than did Enjolras. If it had been granted to these two young men to attain to history, the one would have been the just, the other the wise man. Enjolras was the more virile, Combeferre the more humane. _Homo_ and _vir_, that was the exact effect of their different shades. Combeferre was as gentle as Enjolras was severe, through natural whiteness. He loved the word _citizen_, but he preferred the word _man_. He would gladly have said: _Hombre_, like the Spanish. He read everything, went to the theatres, attended the courses of public lecturers, learned the polarization of light from Arago, grew enthusiastic over a lesson in which Geoffroy Sainte-Hilaire explained the double function of the external carotid artery, and the internal, the one which makes the face, and the one which makes the brain; he kept up with what was going on, followed science step by step, compared Saint-Simon with Fourier, deciphered hieroglyphics, broke the pebble which he found and reasoned on geology, drew from memory a silkworm moth, pointed out the faulty French in the Dictionary of the Academy, studied Puységur and Deleuze, affirmed nothing, not even miracles; denied nothing, not even ghosts; turned over the files of the _Moniteur_, reflected. He declared that the future lies in the hand of the schoolmaster, and busied himself with educational questions. He desired that society should labor without relaxation at the elevation of the moral and intellectual level, at coining science, at putting ideas into circulation, at increasing the mind in youthful persons, and he feared lest the present poverty of method, the paltriness from a literary point of view confined to two or three centuries called classic, the tyrannical dogmatism of official pedants, scholastic prejudices and routines should end by converting our colleges into artificial oyster beds. He was learned, a purist, exact, a graduate of the Polytechnic, a close student, and at the same time, thoughtful "even to chimæras," so his friends said. He believed in all dreams, railroads, the suppression of suffering in chirurgical operations, the fixing of images in the dark chamber, the electric telegraph, the steering of balloons. Moreover, he was not much alarmed by the citadels erected against the human mind in every direction, by superstition, despotism, and prejudice. He was one of those who think that science will eventually turn the position. Enjolras was a chief, Combeferre was a guide. One would have liked to fight under the one and to march behind the other. It is not that Combeferre was not capable of fighting, he did not refuse a hand-to-hand combat with the obstacle, and to attack it by main force and explosively; but it suited him better to bring the human race into accord with its destiny gradually, by means of education, the inculcation of axioms, the promulgation of positive laws; and, between two lights, his preference was rather for illumination than for conflagration. A conflagration can create an aurora, no doubt, but why not await the dawn? A volcano illuminates, but daybreak furnishes a still better illumination. Possibly, Combeferre preferred the whiteness of the beautiful to the blaze of the sublime. A light troubled by smoke, progress purchased at the expense of violence, only half satisfied this tender and serious spirit. The headlong precipitation of a people into the truth, a '93, terrified him; nevertheless, stagnation was still more repulsive to him, in it he detected putrefaction and death; on the whole, he preferred scum to miasma, and he preferred the torrent to the cesspool, and the falls of Niagara to the lake of Montfaucon. In short, he desired neither halt nor haste. While his tumultuous friends, captivated by the absolute, adored and invoked splendid revolutionary adventures, Combeferre was inclined to let progress, good progress, take its own course; he may have been cold, but he was pure; methodical, but irreproachable; phlegmatic, but imperturbable. Combeferre would have knelt and clasped his hands to enable the future to arrive in all its candor, and that nothing might disturb the immense and virtuous evolution of the races. _The good must be innocent_, he repeated incessantly. And in fact, if the grandeur of the Revolution consists in keeping the dazzling ideal fixedly in view, and of soaring thither athwart the lightnings, with fire and blood in its talons, the beauty of progress lies in being spotless; and there exists between Washington, who represents the one, and Danton, who incarnates the other, that difference which separates the swan from the angel with the wings of an eagle. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Fourth – The Friends of the A B C, Chapter I, A Group which barely missed becoming Historic.]
- Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2018): “Halliday’s novel is so strange and startlingly smart that its mere existence seems like commentary on the state of fiction.”