On the Death of Siegfried Lenz ? ?You have to justify your life?

Siegfried Lenz, one of the great writers of German post-war literature is dead. He died on 7 October 2014, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.... more more

GoetheInstitute

10/10/2005

Prospect's blunder

Prospect's list of the world's top 100 public intellectuals is an intellectual blunder of the first order. By Arno Widmann

The list of the world's 100 best and most important public intellectuals has been published by Prospect (here) and Foreign Policy (here) magazines. No, that's wrong. It's not about the best or the most important. It's about "the world's top 100 public intellectuals." A stupid list. Those who are reading this closely can stop now. Because they know this list is going to turn up nothing new.

Who is on "top" has been decided purely by how famous they are. No one in their right mind can take this list seriously, not even the people who drew it up. If they had really followed the criteria they set for themselves, they wouldn't even have come up with one hundred names. For one simple reason: there are probably not even half a dozen intellectuals in the world whose statements are taken note of in different milieus all over the world. If you were to apply the criteria to the intellectuals on this list, there would be a massacre that hardly anyone apart from the Pope would survive.

Even those who are prepared to see in the Pope – a professional dogmatic – an intellectual, would have trouble getting him on the list. Benedict XVI has not got his intellectual status to thank for his number one spot, but his public office, which is light years from Ratzinger the person. Just a few months ago he wouldn't have even made it onto this list.

Thomas Friedman is a journalistic big shot in the beautiful, clearly laid out world of the New York Times reader. But is this brilliant columnist really one of today's top intellectuals? And who reads Abdolkarim Soroush? Who is waiting for his new essays or books on Islam and democracy? Soroush, who is on the list, proves just how inane it really is. His relevance lies in the fact that his utterances are on the fringe of intellectual society. He has no place on any top public intellectual list at all. Not in Iran, not in the USA and not in Germany. A look at his print run figures, at his real pubic stature, makes this immediately clear.

The fact that his name appears shows that this Prospect and Foreign Policy list is actually leering at another, much more exciting list, one that names the hundred most important idea providers of today. If this list were put together, all at once we would be rid of the gentlemen from the New York Times and a few other media. Instead we would find ourselves in a conflict about just what the ideas of today are, the global, globalising world of today. We would no longer be confronted by the same old faces, but by men and women who have played a central role in making up our different world views. Not because they have held forth every day in editorials and commentaries about their own world views, but because they have researched and pondered, because they have figured something out that changes our lives and/or our views in a radical way.

We are celebrating the Einstein Year. A hundred years ago a small-time employee in Bern's patent office revolutionised our view of the world. More than his contemporaries Stalin, Hitler, Keynes, Joyce or Picasso. But was Einstein an intellectual? First and foremost he was a scientist. It was through his scientific work that he became a public intellectual. You can say the same thing about Jean-Paul Sartre. He was first a philosopher, and then a public figure. Someone who is just an intellectual – and this list is teaming with them – has not figured anything out for himself, but simply understands what others have figured out to make it big. That is deserving of praise, and nothing speaks against putting these people in a list of their own, as far as I'm concerned it could have a hundred names. However such a list would be uninteresting, because we already know who's on it.

But in the media this logic is turned on its head. In the media the most interesting person is the star, the person everyone sees and knows everything about. The person who has been photographed ten thousand times is the one photographers flock to shoot. Prospect and Foreign Policy are paying homage to just this principle, and that's stupid. Not just for the reader, but for the magazine as well. There's no better way to drive up contribution rates. The next time they print an article by Vargas Llosa, he'll remind them he was on their list. The disaster of the Prospect and Foreign Policy list is that the more people take part in the online selection, the fewer people it will contain. This allegedly globalised list does not utilize the knowledge produced throughout the world for a global audience. It merely highlights the provincialism of the few media that operate worldwide.

*

The article originally appeared in German on Perlentaucher on October 6, 2005.

Arno Widmann was born in 1948 and studied philosophy in Frankfurt with Theodor W. Adorno. A founder and editor-in-chief of die tageszeitung, he has also worked as senior editor of the German Vogue and arts editor of Die Zeit. Today he runs the opinion pages of the Berliner Zeitung. He has translated Umberto Eco, Curzio Malaparte and Victor Serge into German. His literary debut came with his 2002 novel "Sprenger".

Translation: Ruth Elkins.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

Signandsight.com says good-bye

Wednesday March 28, 2012

Signandsight.com bids farewell after seven exciting and engaging years. Editors Thierry Chervel and Anja Seeliger express their thanks and say a personal good-bye to our readers - while remaining committed to the idea of a public forum dedicated to the motto "Let's Talk European".
read more

"We only have ourselves to draw upon"

Wednesday 26 October, 2011

TeaserPicIf geniuses still exist in Germany, then Friedrich Kittler, who died at the age of 68 on 18 October, was one of them. The literary scholar and media theorist wrote as much about drugs as he did about weapons, and he was as interested in war as he was in love. One of his PhD students is a Eurofighter pilot in Afghanistan. Andreas Rosenfelder talked with him in his Berlin apartment at the beginning of the year.
read more

Surveillance on demand

Monday 17 October 2011

The Chaos Computer Club's sensational find of a German government trojan has shed light on an extreme case of state surveillance. Spokespersons of the club, Constanze Kurz and Frank Rieger suggest that this is not an isolated case of enforcement overstepping the limits of the law. In an interview with Joachim Güntner they talk about the promise of efficiency, the antagonism of freedom and security, and the society of digital control.
read more

Signandsight revisited

Wednesday 23 March, 2011

We're extremely pleased to be back, after a bout of financial flu, buoyed up by your many mails of encouragement! The new streamlined signandsight.com will no longer deliver feuilleton or magazine summaries, concentrating on getting you full translations every week instead. Please follow us on Twitter and eventually Facebook too!
read more

Against obscurantism

Tuesday 2 November, 2010

TeaserPicTwo years ago Argentinian philosophy professor Horacio Potel was taken to court for running three non-profit online Spanish libraries featuring hitherto unavailable texts by Heidegger, Derrida and Nietzsche. He talks to Beatriz Busaniche about his country's draconian copyright laws and the vital importance of free access to our common heritage.
read more

Open Excess

Tuesday 26 May, 2009

As the world awaits the decision on the Google Books Settlement, there is much uncertainty and debate about what it will mean for authors' rights. In Germany, literature professor Roland Reuß has added to the confusion by launching an attack on what he believes to be another enemy of the freedom to publish: Open Access. Publishers, journalists, authors and other sympathisers have signed his petition, which is now in the hands of Chancellor Merkel. Their arguments are hair-raising, deluded and dangerous, says Matthias Spielkamp
read more

The fuel of the Internet

Thursday 3 January, 2008

Give me back my hierarchical media system! Print journalists live in fear of the death of "good journalism" through Web 2.0 and yet a blogger was nominated Germany's journalist of 2007. While the discourse rumbles on Google is noiselessly earning 3 euros a month from millions of German users. By Robin Meyer-Lucht
read more

From closed circuits to communicating tubes

Monday 18 June, 2007

European democracy exists largely within nation-states, and not in the continental dimension. Even the ponderous TV channel "Euro-News" has not succeeded in creating a European public sphere. But without a European consciousness there will be no European federation. For this to happen interpreters are needed, to explain the motives of one side to the other. By Adam Krzeminski
read more

How to save the quality press?

Monday 21 May, 2007

When gas, electricity or water are at stake, the state must guarantee the energy supply for the population. Shouldn't it do likewise when the other type of 'energy' is at risk, the quality press? All over the world, financial investors are increasingly replacing patriarchal publishers and imposing their idea of profitability. Philosopher Jürgen Habermas argues for state support for the quality newspapers.
read more

The press and Europe's public sphere

Thursday 9 May, 2007

Newspapers by nature cover local matters. That belongs to the rules of the game. But what happens when the rules change? Only when they take an active interest in affairs abroad will paper's coverage on their home turf improve. Arne Ruth, long-time chief editor of Sweden's Dagens Nyheter, tells why cross-border journalism can help make the separate realms of Europe a single public space.
read more

Cultural diversity? A pipe dream

Thursday 22 March, 2007

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions entered into force on March 18. Rüdiger Wischenbart gives a quick overview of the realities behind translation.
read more

Knowledge and its price

Thursday 6 July, 2006

We live in a knowledge society, but it knows very little about itself. Information technologies allow us to organise knowledge faster than ever, yet we are regularly warned that we are losing touch with knowledge. The total of all stored knowledge is an exotic 5 exabytes, but a closer look reveals a network of one-way streets, detours, and barred routes. By Rüdiger Wischenbart
read more

The future of journalism

Wednesday 17 May, 2006

Crisis is nothing new to the press. Newspapers will continue to exist, alongside the Internet, soon in paperless form. They must offer their readers exclusive news, bold opinion and captivating language. Mathias Döpfner, head of the Axel Springer media empire, answers Rupert Murdoch.
read more

The medium is English

Monday 15 May, 2006

Are there British intellectuals? Are they better than the rest? Or do they just happen to be speaking the right language at the right time in the history of public debate? By Naomi buck
read more