The words that are burning inside

Ruben Cukier1.jpg
Ruben Cukier @ Itch

Scott Neigh on writing and the social character of intellectual work @ Canadian Dimension.  I’ve been gradually working my way through writing a series of posts reflecting on doing intellectual work outside of the academy. I started out with an introduction explaining more or less what the series will involve and why I’m writing them. I followed up with one talking about what exactly I mean by intellectual work and what aspects of it I feel capable of talking about — that is, that intellectual work is any activity that involves making sense of the world, and that I specifically am going to talk about intellectual work that is done with a sense of vocation and with an intent to communicate whatever sense is made of the world to others in a mediated way. (See the post for a more complete explanation of what I mean by that, as these specifications are central to what I talk about in the rest of the post.)

This time, I’m going to talk about what it means to think about intellectual work in a social way. I raised this in my introductory post in the context of a shift in how I thought about my own most-frequent form of intellectual work, writing. That is, when I first started the painful journey that allowed me to identify unflinchingly as a writer, my main focus of attention was on the relationship between myself and the page. However, making good choices requires having as complete a picture as possible of what is going on. It has become clear to me that what I do as a writer — or what anyone does who engages in vocational, mediated intellectual work, whatever the form of what they produce — can only really be understood in a grounded, material way if I recognize that the relationship between the producer and the immediate content they produce is only one part of the picture. An important part, for those of us who labour daily to shape blood and sweat into meaning meant to be shared with others, but just a part. Intellectual work is also integrated into social relations in a general sense, much like any other activity. And in a more specific way, it is centrally about creating a particular kind of relation between the person doing the intellectual work and those who read (view, hear) whatever it is that they produce.