Intellectual. I’ve been thinking a lot about that word. I’ve especially been wondering – does an intellectual have to be smart? Now I live in Central New Jersey, and the “intellectual scene” is something you frequently hear about, especially when people talk about New York City. It’s as if anyone can just go to New York and live the intellectual life one experiences in Woody Allen films. But no one ever considers that there may be a prerequisite for that life – intelligence. Here’s how dictionary.com defines “intellectual”:
1. Of or relating to the intellect.
2. Rational rather than emotional.
2. Appealing to or engaging the intellect: an intellectual book; an intellectual problem.
1. Having or showing intellect, especially to a high degree. See Synonyms at intelligent.
2. Given to activities or pursuits that require exercise of the intellect.
OK, those are a lot of different things, most of them having to do with “intellect” or “rationality”. But I don’t think they are all true. I mean, many scientists are very smart and rational, but I wouldn’t call them intellectual. I think intellectuals have to be humanistic, at least. For one to be intellectual, one needs to have the right tastes in music, writing, and art.
It’s likely that intellectual is an identity or a lifestyle open to the smart and dumb alike. One simply gains exposure to certain authors, artists, and musical styles and knows who to talk about – the art of Bruce Nauman, the writings of Michel Foucault or Simone de Beauvoir and the films of Goddard or Woody Allen. Oh, and maybe the music of John Cage. One should in any case appreciate classical music to be intellectual, especially the German classical music like Wagner. It’s very intellectual to say you loved “Nibelungen” (as opposed to myself, who can only say I enjoyed “Apocalypse Now”, but as I said I live in New Jersey).
I guess that’s where harsh reality hits. If you are an intellectual and you’re not smart, you’ll read “Ulysses” but it will consist only of about 1000 pages of meaningless words. You won’t enjoy it. You may see “Nibelungen” – and sit for 3 nights bored silly. I guess in this case you are only a “pseudo intellectual” and sometimes it’s very hard to tell the difference. Only a smart intellectual can enjoy the fruits of intellectual culture. As an example, female Woody Allen characters often resemble pseudo-intellectuals. Take Diane Keaton in “Manhattan”. She spent the entire film giving opinions about artists and writers, but most of her comments were fairly superficial and facile. Perhaps that is part of Allen’s point, making fun of all those in NYC who think they are intellectual.
So what is a real intellectual? In my opinion, it is someone who experiences high-level cultural works and genuinely enjoys them. Someone who is thrilled to see a Joseph Beuys and to hear the music of Schoenberg. I think it’s a combination of being intelligent and having good taste. Of course one can also make up for intelligence with determination and hard work, you just can’t enjoy good works as fast as a genuinely smart person can.
Am I an intellectual? Hopefully not according to Woody Allen’s definition. But I honestly like video art. I’m interested in postmodern philsophy and critical theory. One day I hope to understand and enjoy Wagner. That’s where the hard work will come in.