Representations of the intellectual* Edward W. Said
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Representations of the intellectual Edward W. Said
ARE INTELLECTUALS a very large or an extremely small and highly selective group of people? Two of the most famous twentieth-century descriptions of intellectuals are fundamentally opposed on that point. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, activist, journalist and brilliant political philosopher who was imprisoned by Mussolini between 1926 and 193 7, wrote in his Prison Notebooks that "all men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals." Gramsci's own career exemplifies the role he ascribed to the intellectual: a trained philologist, he was both an organizer of the Italian working-class movement and, in his own journalism, one of the most consciously reflective of social analysts, whose purpose was to build not justa social movement but an entire cultural formation associated with the movement.
Those who do perform the intellectual function in society, Gramsci tries to show, can be divide into two types: first, traditional intellectuals such as teachers, priests, and administrators, who continue to do the same thing from generation to generation; and second, organic intellectuals, whom Gramsci saw as directly connected to classes or enterprises that used intellectuals to organize interests, gain more power, get more control. Thus, Gramsci says about the organic intellectual, "the capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organizers of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc." Today's advertising or public relations expert, who devises techniques for winning a detergent or airline company a larger share of the market, would be considered an organic
intellectual according to Gramsci, someone who in a democratic society tries to gain the consent of potential customers, win approval, marshal consumer or voter opinion. Gramsci believed that organic intellectuals are actively
involved in society, that is, they constantly struggle to change minds and expand markets; unlike teachers and priests, who seem more or less to remain in place, doing the same kind of work year in year out, organic intellectuals are always on the move, on the make.