The latest entry in The Brooklyn Rail’s “In Conversation” series features a dialogue between philosopher and VCS faculty member Robert Hullot-Kentor and Brazilian literary theorist Fabio Akcelrud Durão. (An earlier piece from The Rail by Professor Hullot-Kentor titled “What Barbarism Is?” was discussed on this blog last February, at this link).
The current interview is part one of a follow-up to an earlier conversation between Hullot-Kentor and Durão that was published in The Rail’s July 2008 issue. A major theme of the earlier piece was the broad and abiding aversion to psychoanalytic theory within the U.S., and the marginal role that psychological reflection generally plays in the national awareness. In some respects, the current article can be seen as a commentary on matters discussed in the 2008 dialogue, as the two writers move on to examine elements of American culture and identity that both replace such reflection and condition people against it.
Though relatively brief, the new conversation covers a lot of ground, with a great deal of depth and precision. Among other things, Durão and Hullot-Kentor consider the origins of the intelligentsia in nineteenth-century Europe and the historical isolation of the intellect from everyday life within the U.S.; the hopelessness of seeking a counterculture within academia, and the potential for the emergence of a genuine American intelligentsia among displaced intellectuals and students; Alexis de Tocqueville’s insights on the way Americans frame considerations of the common good in terms of theories of self-interest; the implications of our highly systematic but very unphilosophical approach to the world; and the ways in which the evolution of contemporary language seems to reflect the deeper disconnects—both functional and ideological—between the individual and the social whole.
As I did with my last post on Hullot-Kentor and the Brooklyn Rail, I’ll close this piece by saying that my thumbnail sketch of the article’s contents fails to do it justice; the original is well worth a careful read, and I encourage everyone here to check it out.