Tuesday, July 05, 2011

On a defensive note

A few weeks ago I was both inspired and irritated by Stefan Collini's review in the LRB of John Hall's intellectual biography of Ernest Gellner (unfortunately the article is only available online to LRB subscribers): Inspired because reading it made me want to know more about Gellner's "critical rationalism" (of course I had heard of him, but he's not exactly amongst the usual suspects cited in your run-of-the-mill textbook, anthology or Super-Extra-Short Introduction favoured by the discerning academic publishing house these days), irritated because Collini made Gellner appear like some kind of intellectual klutz insensitive to the higher forms of theoretical thinking (such as Oxford linguistic philosophy).

I reckon it's the weather: The London Review has been unusually mean and cantankerous recently.

So I was glad to find R.W. Johnson write in defence of Gellner in the latest LRB:

[Gellner]generated, to a degree unequalled by any other social scientist I have met, a feeling of "look, what we are doing is trying to figure out how the modern world works and this is a deadly serious task, in fact it is the most serious thing there is." He was never really off duty. Collini sounds a little too English to feel quite comfortable with that Germanic intensity and seriousness.

Granted, in the day and age of the Guttenberg-syndrome, references to "Germanic intensity and seriousness" may sound a tad inappropriate (if not ironic), but of course one can always go back to one's roots.

1 comment:

Kris said...

My two cents worth is that Gellner has written perhaps the best and most accessible explorations and explanations of nationalism that holds up very well (despite what many of his critics say).