The Incoherence of the Intellectual
Added by Unknown 1685 on Mar 28th, 2021
Type of Work
5 × 9 in
"Fredy Perlman wrote The Incoherence of the Intellectual, a comprehensive review of the writings of sociologist C. Wright Mills, while living in Kalamazoo. Mills was a sociologist who taught at Columbia from 1946 until his death in 1962. He wrote influential books and articles, including The Power Elite, White Collar, and The Sociological Imagination, at a time when political activity on the left in the United States was at a low point.16 His writing was influential to rising leftist intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. Perlman came into contact with Mills while enrolled as a graduate student in English at Columbia University from 1956 to 1957, where he audited Mills’ undergraduate courses. Lorraine Perlman recounts that Mills appealed to Fredy because, unlike other liberal professors, he openly expressed outrage and frustration with the conditions of everyday life.17A decade later, Perlman himself had become a professor of Economics at Western Michigan University. He was soon ousted from the depart-ment for his support of, and participation in, radical political action alongside students.18Perlman wrote Incoherence not long after he left WMU. There are three key points that emerge in the text. First, their intellectual distance from other laborers leads academics to passivity and inaction; second, people create and uphold institutions through their own daily activity; and third, there is liberatory potential in what Mills and Perlman call “craftsmanship,” which is characterized by a “unity of design, production, and enjoyment.” Perlman is critical of the fact that Mills could not—or would not—sever ties with academia. As Perlman saw it, Mills’ attachment to academia prevented him from ever becoming fully politically engaged. He made radical statements in his writing but didn’t act on those statements. Perlman was particularly critical of the university as a site from which to launch any truly revolutionary project. For him the university was not a neutral employer, but a pernicious bureaucratic structure designed to carry out state oppression. Another key point Perlman makes is that people create the institutions that oppress them through their own daily activity. We are the ones who imbue authority and power to the institutions that govern us and determine how we spend our time. When we think of institutions as “them,” as some abstract other outside of ourselves, we become passive enforcers of the very systems we seek to change. He sees Mills as complicit with the institution of the university, and, by extension, state and military violence.Finally, Perlman’s attention to the discussion of craftsmanship offers insight into an understanding of the book itself, which is both a political treatise and a carefully crafted object. Perlman sought a kind of political and intellectual coherence in his life—in contrast to Mills, an intellectual who remained incoherent, stuck in the academy, writing articles and books that were in direct contradiction to his lived existence. In 1969–70, the 1967 Detroit rebellion and the 1968 general strike in Paris were very fresh. Perlman was setting up the Print Co-op on terms that he, Lorraine Perlman, and their friends were defining for themselves." The Detroit Printing Co-op by Danielle Aubert.