Find Yourself a Nemesis

February 18, 2010

In case you missed it, the hot news in the world of American public intellectual culture is the tit-for-tat between the Literary Editor of The New Republic Leon Wieseltier and Andrew Sullivan who now blogs at The Atlantic.  The New York Times recently offered a useful recap of the who-said-what.  The New York Times is now the Us Weekly of the world of letters.

The argument is about one man accusing the other of antisemitism; it offers insight into a once and actual friendship and prompts questions about the relationship between public and private selves, between emotions and opinions. It touches on issues that I ordinarily would love to comment on, but something very different occurred to me when I decided to post about it.

This argument shows above all the importance of debates, particularly those of an adversarial nature, for the making and defining of ideas and careers. Often our thinking is shaped through dialogue, sharpened by disagreement and reinforced in the face of contrary convictions. Even more often intellectual careers are launched, propelled and defined by famous debates. William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal; Alan Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein; Edward Said and Bernard Lewis; the list could go on for quite some time.

And so I say to you, my own cyber intellectual community: Find yourself a nemesis. Start a fight with a foe or friend over quibbles real and imagined. Distinguish, define, deliberate and discourse. Most important of all make sure there are people around to see, hear or read about it.

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