Discover more from French Reflections
Two New Opinion Pieces
Two New Short Articles
During college, and for a couple of years afterwards, I hesitated between two career paths: academia and journalism. I spent a year as a “reporter-researcher” (translation: glorified intern) at the old New Republic magazine in Washington, where between hours spent xeroxing, running physical proofs to the printer (yes, it was that long ago), and answering the phone, I had the chance to report and write stories of my own. One of my colleagues in the position that year, incidentally, also ended up in a different line of work. His name is Antony Blinken.
In the end, I opted for academia. When I was accepted to the Ph.D. program at Princeton, with a fellowship, and was unsure of whether to accept, the then Literary Editor of the magazine, Leon Wieseltier, gave me two pieces of very wise advice. He said, first, that even if I ended up as an opinion journalist, it was still important, in his words, “really to know something about something.” It didn’t matter so much what that “something” was. But the experience of learning about a subject in depth would improve both my thinking and my writing. And secondly, Leon said that while I would still have the freedom, from an academic position, to write the occasional journalistic piece, it would be much harder to do serious scholarship while in a journalism job. In other words, if I wanted to be anything like an old-fashioned homme de lettres, I should try graduate school.
If my writing and thinking improved as a result of my graduate training. the credit goes to the extraordinary scholars I studied with at Princeton: Robert Darnton, Natalie Zemon Davis, Lawrence Stone, Anthony Grafton and Theodore Rabb. But Leon was absolutely right about the best way to mix scholarship and journalism. Over the course of my career, I’ve always enjoyed the chance to write relatively short pieces for a non-specialist audience: mostly book reviews, but also opinion pieces on a variety of subjects. Some of the pieces I have written about France are collected in my book Shadows of Revolution. Others can be linked to through my website.
All of this is a very long-winded way of coming to the point that I have two new opinion pieces out that readers of this newsletter might be interested in. The first, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, deals with the issue of whether academic departments should issue public statements on current affairs. I take the position that even if you think that academic work is always inherently political, in a Foucauldian sense (which I don’t, actually), you should still oppose the practice. The second is my depressed take on the past week’s violence in France for the British web magazine Unherd. The first piece is paywalled, but access is available through many university libraries. The second should be in open access.