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Tuesday, January 9, 2007
American Scholar, defended
Last Friday, I wrote about the 75th anniversary of the journal The American Scholar, and Evan and Chris responded in these pages.
I also received a friendly response from Robert Wilson, editor of The American Scholar. I'd made one criticism in my write-up, asking: "Who are the intellectual giants and provocateurs of today? One would like to see their names appear on the cover of The American Scholar; alas, I have not seen them appear there so far during Wilson's tenure."
I think the magazine is full of the sort of person you mention from the excerpts. Ted Widmer himself is an Arthur Schlesinger Jr. type, having worked inside government as a speechwriter for Clinton. Garry Wills, to my mind our premier public intellectual, was in the Scholar three times in 2006. The two people in our banner for the Winter 2007 issue, Ethan Fishman and Nick Bromell, also qualify. See our piece by Brian Boyd in the Autumn 2006 issue. The editor of Arts and Letters Daily said it was the most requested piece he had last fall, and it's a very serious piece of work on a big subject. Others who have appeared on our cover: Adam Goodheart, Amitai Etzioni (twice), the new senator James Webb, William Deresiewicz, Ingrid D. Rowland, Donald Worster, Josiah Bunting, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Eugen Weber, Philip Alcabes, Emily Bernard. These names don't have the historical resonance of the names you mention, but it's worth remembering that some of those people began to establish their reputations in the Scholar.
I didn't really mean that the Scholar should publish more famous intellectuals (though what I wrote could easily be construed that way). I meant that TAS should publish up-and-coming thinkers and writers whom we will one day consider the great minds of the 2000s. Of course, this is far easier said than done, as those of us who have ever edited an intellectual journal, or newspaper section devoted to ideas, know all too well. Wilson proudly claims that he is doing just that, so it could be that I was unfair, and will have to publish yet another retraction.
First, though, I've got to re-read the essays he mentions. Good thing the newly redesigned American Scholar website is (as Chris pointed out) so easy to navigate. Here, for example, is Brian Boyd's Autumn 2006 essay on what proponents of Theory could learn from bioculture. I'll return to this topic in the near future...