Intelligence and interdisciplinarity

The New York Times obituary for historian and public intellectual Tony Judt, who died recently, hints that his writing has much to offer GLS programs. Praising Mr. Judt for his “ability to see the present in the past” and for “free-ranging inquiry across disciplines,” the article points out a longer passage from a 2005 interview in which he recalls Raymond Aron, a French professor with a “capacity to move unselfconsciously between disciplines for the purpose of understanding things.” Judt suggests that our very thought may be hobbled if we are unable to follow that example:

A historian also has to be an anthropologist, also has to be a philosopher, also has to be a moralist, also has to understand the economics of the period he is writing about. Though they are often arbitrary, disciplinary boundaries certainly exist. Nevertheless, the historian has to learn to transcend them in order to write intelligently. (Jan./Feb. 2006, Historically Speaking)

The New York Review of Books offers a series of Judt’s articles and blog postings for those who would like to read more. For example, in a recent blog entry Judt talked about the way our choice of social role–a profession or a particular public role in society–also weighs upon our written words and influences their nature and quality:

The “professionalization” of academic writing—and the self-conscious grasping of humanists for the security of “theory” and “methodology”—favors obscurantism. This has encouraged the rise of a counterfeit currency of glib “popular” articulacy: in the discipline of history this is exemplified by the ascent of the “television don,” whose appeal lies precisely in his claim to attract a mass audience in an age when fellow scholars have lost interest in communication. But whereas an earlier generation of popular scholarship distilled authorial authority into plain text, today’s “accessible” writers protrude uncomfortably into the audience’s consciousness. It is the performer, rather than the subject, to whom the audience’s attention is drawn. (“Words,” 7/17/10, NYR Blog)

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