Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

Intellectuals and Pleasure

Posted on | July 8, 2011 | No Comments

Giving a different tone to the daily news, we witnessed quite a debate this week in the pages of francophone daily La Presse. It pitted Patrick Lagacé against Marc Cassivi on the topic of an alleged “anti-intellectualism” of Québécois (more precisely, “pure laine” Québécois). Jean-François Lisée brilliantly summed it up today in L’Actualité and straightened up a few facts along the way. Quebec is much more open to intellectuals than we are led to believe.

It cannot be argued that at a certain era intellectuals had a very bad press; what happened for the tide to turn so fast? Basically people figured out that intellectuals were generally very gifted at pleasure. Nothing makes someone else appear more human than seeing him or her having fun. Intellectuals realized they would have a wider audience just relaxing and stopping to look down on the masses. So they took back their proper place in Quebec society, a society we could pretend is focused mostly on pleasure.

A few examples : let’s think about the Decline of the American Empire  and the Barbarian Invasions. These movies abruptly disclosed that, in the end, intellectuals were just like the rest of us mortals: sex-driven beasts who simply covered their impulses with different garments, having the same fundamental needs. We can think about Fred Pellerin, who admirably too control of the French language, mixing the regional idiosyncrasies of “simple” characters with a thorough exercise displaying the diversity and complexity of French language.

We can see the rise of non-traditional figures at the helm of cultural institutions as another factor. Kent Nagano conducting the MSO and Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading the Metropolitan Orchestra (not to mention their respective international career) break the dusty cliché of the old and grumpy conductor. All of these people derive genuine pleasure from their passion, a pleasure they go at length to share with their public.

The notion of sharing is essential – walking the extra step towards the other to give him or her the opportunity to taste this pleasure, rather than remaining securely shut away in an ivory tower, is fundamental to the intellectuals’ successes. This also explains the success of scientific writers such as Hubert Reeves, David Suzuki, and so on. In the end, the Québécois are beginning to enjoy it all, just like they enjoy having more refined taste, seeking ever more subtle pleasures, chiefly gastronomic!

Anti-intellectualism in Quebec? An old cliché that sincerely has no reason to be. First and foremost in a society of pleasure we ask for the chance to savour, to live experiences fully and completely. If intellectuals contribute to this goal, they contribute to our social project.

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