The Role of the Intellectual


One of my favourite holiday gifts was given to me by my ex-girlfriend, a little blank-paged book referred to as a Moleskine. As legend has it, the Moleskine notebook held the ideas of “artists and thinkers for the past two centuries” before their “sketches, notes, and stories were turned into famous images or pages of beloved books” (excerpt taken from the Moleskine pamphlet). I love this gift. But at the same time I’m intimidated by it. I keep journals, I love to wake up and scratch out whatever comes to mind whether it’s a fresh idea or a to-do list, scribbled into nothing more than a spiral bound notebook like the kind you’d buy for school.

This Moleskine is special (I’m buying into its history, plus the gift giver is super special, a mentor in an emotional way). So the Moleskine represents a potential for personal expression that requires a more thoughtful approach. I felt I wanted to reserve it purely for intellectual pursuits, for a captured interaction of mentor and student, a handwritten log of a learning process, a dialectic of sorts between excerpts and famous quotes from my favourite philosophers and my own budding scholarship.

My first entry needed to be special, set a tone so to speak; hence, I decided on an excerpt by Edward W. Said, from his book entitled “Representations of the Intellectual.” Said is a contemporary thinker, representing the intellectual as an oppositional figure to the establishment. Naturally, I love this. I also encourage you to read it. I think his message is timeless, and is especially poignant in light of the recent bullshit Ugandan kill-the-gays bill. Tell me what you think about the following excerpt, I hope it inspires you; I believe its message applies to all of us in our LGBT community, whether or not you consider yourself a budding philosopher, an activist, or thought leader (odds are you have one inside you that you may not be mentoring w/ challenging ideas):

“…the intellectual is an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy, or opinion to, as well as for, a public. And this role has an edge to it, and cannot be played without a sense of being someone whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than to produce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, whose raison d’etre is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely swept under the rug. The intellectual does so on the basis of universal principles: that all human beings are entitled to expect decent standards of behaviour concerning freedom and justice from worldly powers or nations, and that deliberate or inadvertent violations of these standards need to be testified and fought against courageously” (Said, 1994, p11).

I’ve run out of room for this blog, so I’ll mention the mentorship of the ex another time. In summary, the mentorship I’ve described here comes via an interaction with messages that inspire us to think, to speak, and to act with courage. As an LGBT community, we are summoned to challenges daily.

PhotoCredit: Brenderous

About The Author

Cynthia Vale is a budding scholar and doctoral student in Transformative Inquiry at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She writes the dot429 philosophy blog. You can reach Cynthia at

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