Amateurs and Authorities

Edward Said,
Reith Lectures 1993: Representations of an Intellectual
Lecture 4: Professionals and Amateurs
Broadcast: 2 August 1993 – BBC Radio 4

The final paragraphs — inviting us to think about authority and audience:

Therefore, the problem for the intellectual is to try to deal with the impingements of modern professionalisation as I have been discussing them, not by pretending that they are not there or denying their influence, but by representing a different set of values and prerogatives. These I shall collect under the name of amateurism, literally, an activity that is fuelled by care and affection rather than by profit, and selfish, narrow specialisation.

An amateur is what today the intellectual ought to be, someone who considers that to be a thinking and concerned member of a society one is entitled to raise moral issues at the heart of even the most technical and professionalised activity as it involve one’s country, its power, its mode of interacting with its citizens as well as with other societies. In addition, the intellectual’s spirit as an amateur can enter and transform the merely professional routine most of us go through into something much more lively and radical; instead of doing what one is supposed to do one can ask why one does it, who benefits from it, how can it reconnect with a personal project and original thought.

Every intellectual has an audience and a constituency. The issue is whether that audience is there to be satisfied, and hence a client to be kept happy, or whether it is there to be challenged, and hence stirred into outright opposition, or mobilised into greater democratic participation in the society. But in either case, there is no getting around authority and power, and no getting around the intellectual’s relationship to them. How does the intellectual address authority: as a professional supplicant, or as its unrewarded, amateurish conscience?

Seems to call for a complementary notion of an “amateur audience” — informed, engaged and committed to an ethos of care.

And so for day 2875

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