the new faces of the committed intellectual

A young nonagenarian will blow out her candles, this Thursday, October 20, at the Maison de la poetry in Paris (IIIrd arr.). Founded by the philosopher Emmanuel Mounier in October 1932, the review Spirit will celebrate its 90th anniversary during an evening-debate on the commitment of intellectuals today. A congenital theme for this publication which has always claimed its involvement in the life of the city and sought to invent the paths of a concrete humanism.

“For the magazine, commitment is a strong themeemphasizes Anne-Lorraine Bujon, current editorial director ofSpirit. From the 1930s, when Mounier founded the review, the question was already: “How to be committed without being indoctrinated, without being doctrinaire or dogmatic?” » In almost a century of existence, Spirit has witnessed many changes: from the universal intellectual situated above the fray, to the organic intellectual, united with a party; from the total intellectual, speaking in a variety of fields, to the specific intellectual speaking from a field of competence; from the media intellectual, surfing on fashions, to the critical intellectual, deconstructing the logic of power…

The legacy of this history, during which Spirit knew how to avoid many recruitments and futile polemics, draws a troubled portrait of the committed intellectual. “He is a figure that is both attractive and repellentrecognizes Anne-Lorraine Bujon. attractive, because it still draws the figure of an honest man, a complete, cultivated mind. Repoussier, because it evokes Sartre and a type of commitment that leads to a form of blindness. But it’s a figure that I still want to defend. »

A more humble word

Compared to his predecessors, the committed intellectual must now fall back. “Intellectuals have long embodied the meaning of history, they were able to tell the future. Now why commit? And towards what? The horizon has clouded…” points out the historian François Dosse, a specialist in contemporary intellectual history. “Intellectuals have the feeling of having a weak speech, in a minor key, which is accompanied by a feeling of downgrading », complete Anne-Lorraine Bujon.

However, the intellectual scene is far from being sluggish or devoid of commitments. For two decades, it has even been profoundly renewed, around fields that were blind spots of the university: political ecology, gender studies and feminism, colonial and postcolonial studies and racial questions, critical economics… “In view of what is happening today, the figure of the committed intellectual is more relevant than ever.insists François Gèze, former director of La Découverte editions and president of Cairn, the digital portal for human and social sciences. This figure has spread and democratized. »

For the publisher, the number of young researchers who put their scholarly knowledge at the service of a transformation of the city is “much more important than before”. “Critical knowledge is increasing in a staggering and very encouraging way, and for four or five years these works have now found their public. » These new minds have abandoned the position of the romantic intellectual, the solitary hero of thought. They invest in collectives – in the form of editorial projects, online media, civic associations or ZADs, but keep their distance from parties. “They renew the political field, in a concrete and realistic way, from below and, in a certain way, more radically”analyzes François Gèze.

This renewal, which has taken place from the margins of the university, is not without giving rise to new controversies and tensions, within an increasingly eruptive public debate. “However, this is simply a matter of catching up on the part of the French on issues that have been widely worked on in the United States”points out François Dosse.

An ambivalent moment

A suspicion hovers in particular on the articulation between their personal convictions and their scientific work. The controversy over the“Islamo-leftism”triggered by political circles, was the visible face. “We have recently witnessed a real stigmatization of critical intellectuals”analyzes Nadia Yala Kisukidi, philosopher and specialist in postcolonial studies, who takes part in the anniversary evening of the journal Spirit. “From now on, an academic who works on feminist or gender, racial, colonial, decolonial and postcolonial issues, is immediately disqualified by his field of research. To get involved in these questions would already be to commit oneself and, thereby, to be incapable of being a true researcher. »

For the philosopher, France is thus living through an ambivalent moment. “The commitment of intellectuals may have seemed self-evident in our country, but today we are witnessing a regular dismantling of this heritage, she continues. By mobilizing the term Islamo-leftism, these new thinkers are accused of being bad incarnations of the critical intellectual. The committed intellectual is made into a pathogenic and murderous figure. »

Ecological issues at the center of reflections

After several decades of relative calm in the field of ideas, has the intellectual scene once again become conflictual? “I see the lines hardentestifies the philosopher Camille Riquier, member of the editorial board of the journal Spirit. The challenge of the present moment is to go beyond the too simple alternatives and to constitute an ethics of the engaged intellectual. »“The new critical movement is coming up against growing hostilityconfirms François Gèze. It is not only a stiffening, but also a renewal of the oppositions, which come from the intellectuals of right and extreme right but not only. »

For the historian François Dosse, the violence of the debates remains however “much less than in the 1930s or those of the Cold War”. Mapping the intellectual field remains difficult to do. “Things are not encysted, they are still labile, very open, and the lines of tension sometimes share the same individual”describes the historian.

However, a line of force is emerging around ecological issues. We feel that a new intellectual paradigm will eventually emerge on the side of care (who reflects on issues of care and vulnerability, Ed.) and ecosocialism (which renews the thought of socialism through ecological questions) », analysis Anne-Lorraine Bujon. The many tributes that accompanied the recent death of the philosopher Bruno Latour, a figure of critical ecological thought, testify in any case to a real expectation of society.


The magazine “Esprit” today

Review Spirit currently prints 6,500 copies per month and has 3,500 subscribers.

Its website, which receives 70,000 unique visitors each month, provides access to the archives (31,500 articles) and recent articles. Its newsletter, The Witty Wordhas 23,000 subscribers.

The magazine, edited by Anne-Lorraine Bujon, is based on collective work, around a committee of approximately 35 people, which meets once a month.

The publication celebrates this Thursday, October 20, its 90e anniversary with an evening-debate questioning the figure of the engaged intellectual today, with the philosophers Camille Riquier and Nadia Yala Kisukidi, at the House of Poetry (Paris, 3e borough), at 8:30 p.m.

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