I applaud Drusilla Modjeska's foray into examining the concept of Australian public intellectualism. Her questions are important for the future of the country and it is easy to despair at the lack of opportunities for young enquiring minds to make their marks.
I take umbrage however with Modjeska's claim that public intellectual consciousness is alive and well amongst the 30s and over. There are vital and serious voices to be heard amongst those in their 20s and if one knows to look hard and in the right places, there are some very bright teen voices with incredible potential. Modjeska almost discounts this demographic and this is a shame.
Modjeska also optimistically argues that there may be more opportunities now than ever for thinkers‚ to progress outside the academy and flourish in other intellectual spheres such as publishing. In my experience of the Australian book publishing industry (which I have worked in for most of my 20s), I have found it to be one of the most intrinsically difficult places to make one's mark. As with any industry, one has to expect an apprenticeship of sorts, yet there are no grand gestures to be made from the top, no doors that are opened for young intellectuals to have their say.
Pursuing a career in book publishing – if one still sees the industry as a force for change and creative thinking – should not be seen as a ticket to create agendas; rather my experience of it is that it is governed by the same hegemonic forces stymieing other intellectual debate – by those who are older and with more financial means.
Short of radical action and subversion, I fail to see how young intellectuals will find a voice in a society governed not only increasingly by market forces, but also these older voices. The serious, creative decisions rest in the hands of the very few at the top, and by default, the older generations. An author knocking on doors to these publishing houses will naturally therefore find barriers.
Until younger people can take more important positions at these intellectual portals‚ outside of the academy, ie publishing, politics and journalism, they will remain entrenched in these views of the baby boomer generation and upwards. For all their tacit acknowledgement of generations X‚ and Y‚ it might be worth putting some of these voices to serious work. There are plenty of contributions to be made from all fronts.
The only hope I foresee is the continued pursuit of young intellectuals in actively seeking out these fora in which to make real change. Judging by the sheer volume of students of the humanities, media and political studies, our fears should be allayed.
Yet why do I still feel uneasy? Somebody needs to grab and value these youngsters before they are channelled into becoming a pack of management consultants.