December 19, 2016 § 1 Comment
I haven’t written something that is in article-form (for recreational purposes) in a while. I often write short anecdotes on life, or spaced sentences (poetry) or just attempts of personal reflection. Yet, I find it in me now to write something that is beyond a tweet or three, or even just a paragraph. Therefore, the following paragraphs or thoughts may not go about in an organised manner, and will have no sources.
I am in my last year of studying English Literature and Translation (at the bachelor’s level) and my appreciation for written words has decreased, quite ironically and even surprisingly. That is, of course, not to say that I appreciate celebrated international, and even timeless, works any less than before – I appreciate them a lot more – but simply saying things, or writing things in a proper manner no longer excites me or leaves me impressed. Instead, it leaves me feeling sometimes sorry for the person writing.
Anyone with proper training or just experience can write a good sentence. The degree to the fluency of the sentence differs from one writer to the other, and of course that ‘difference’ is what distinguishes a good writer from the rest. What I have been observing over the years, and I am in no position to generalise this (because my readings are limited and I do not find myself to be in such authority) is that many people often think that writing full sentences coins them as intelligent or of high intellectual status. For example, if someone were to write Facebook statuses in formal English – by not using slang terms or emojis, or even missing any full stops – then they are someone that is ‘intelligent’. Similarly, because someone simply writes a long post then they must be right. But that is another topic for another day.
Many of the general Arab community view speech that is bombarded with complex words an intellectual one, although the very purpose of language is to communicate, and if one were to aimlessly throw around complex words, then they are defying the very purpose of language. If one were to write an academic paper, or to speak to someone from their field, then they are free to use as many technical words as they wish. But using the same words to the public is useless; they would not be understood. Ironically, some of the people who agree with me on this, would also quote famous intellectuals – be it Machiavelli, Tolstoy, or Sartre – going as far as idolizing them, and presenting their views on to you as though they are divine. This, again, goes against (my view on) intellectualism. Anyone can read Tolstoy and quote him. Anyone can read a few pages of Sartre’s essays and act like a professional in the field of existentialism – going for sometimes hours – and passionately defending what they believe to be their view, despite it being Sartre’s views.
The great thing about ‘intellectual’ conversations – compared to others – is that they jump the further step into questioning and sharing the information at hand. To say, “I have read about this enough to speak of it” or “I have a degree” and even “I interviewed the best” is hypocritical. It is all well and good to say this – of course a degree offers one with a lot of authority on the matter – yet denouncing the second party’s opinion or ideas – given that the topic is not scientific (although science is based on questioning everything) – defies the very purpose of the conversation, given that the party’s intention is to learn and share valuable information rather than debate out of the ‘intellectual’ conversation. The hypocritical stance taken here by the pseudo-intellectual is speaking of values (that are actually others’) that they do not act upon.
Any student who speaks well, or writes in proper English, or memorises a few words from the dictionary and reads a book about Plato can win a debating competition. However, to have a genuine conversation that goes two-ways (a student to student rather than a teacher to student) must be one where both parties remain humble. Simply put, acting ‘civilised’ by speaking formally does not mean one is actually more civilised than the other. An easy example, which is common amongst Arabs, is that speaking English in a ‘local’ American or British accent often classifies this person as more educated than the one who speaks in an Egyptian or Jordanian accent –or even no English at all– although this is not the case.
The pseudo-intellectual say they speak for the people whilst covering themselves with a coat of fancy words to sound authentic. Yet, ‘actual’ leaders use simple and emotional speech to reach out to the masses. One of the situations that made me feel ‘sorry’ for someone is when Umm Kulthoum and Abdel Halim were mentioned – celebrated Egyptian singers as well as two of the “Great Four” – and the person looked at me and condescendingly said, “Oh, you probably don’t listen to them.” For some unspoken reason, it is a shared view amongst Egyptians that those who listen to dead artists have ‘high’ taste in music, and are therefore considered ‘classy’. Don’t take me wrong, my father and I discuss and rejoice in Abdel Wahab’s music at least once a week. But simply because I enjoy listening to an already celebrated artist, or in some cases an underground artist, does not mean that I am more ‘classy’ or even smarter than someone else. To enjoy going to galleries and to appreciate art and paintings does not mean that I am more deserving of respect than someone else. To enjoy certain mediums of entertainment does not mean I am better; it is simply a preference.
Perhaps this is the point of this ‘article’ or these paragraphs: it is that simply doing things that are viewed as intellectual does not make one an intellectual. I obviously, as aforementioned, do not have the authority to say who and who is not an intellectual, yet the purpose of this writing is not to define what an intellectual is, rather what an intellectual is not. It is noble to read, and speak well, yet the purpose of these readings and speech must be genuine (if even to defeat an enemy) rather than to simply ‘show off’, or act as an entrance ticket to a certain ‘type’ of group that is scarce in the community. I’d even go as far as terming the pseudo-intellectuals as the nouveau riche of the intellectual community. Simply put, it must be quite tough to abstain from ‘bad’ art because it does not fit into someone’s perception of how an intellectual must act and be.