Anyway, popular is a relative term. Maybe there are no philosophers whose books sell as widely as Richard Dawkins', but some of them sell far more than most poets'. Furthermore, Dawkins as popular writer isn't really even a popular science writer in the mold of, say, . As a popular writer, he's a polemicist, an essayist or pamphleteer. The article quotes Stanley Cavell on the ambiguity of 'popularize.' Now that's a hoot. Cavell's work is pretty intricate and elusive, and yet he is not wholly unpopular.
At bottom the film review seems to be concerned primarily with clarifying the definitions of disciplines, rather than genuinely wondering whether lots of people can enjoy and appreciate academic philosophy. Take, for example, the easy derision of Jacques Derrida. He was called a philosopher because he was trained as one and, for a time, he wrote about philosophers (Husserl, Heidegger, Nietzsche, etc.). Might as well call him one. But as his ambitions drifted toward amorphous, bastardized, parasitical literary studies, he grew dangerous to the discipline, precisely because he became too popular, in a rock star sort of way, and he purveyed wacky ideas in a ratcheted-up language that was a professional embarrassment to "real" philosophers. The pleasure and instruction I get—S&M allusion intended—from reading Derrida grew mostly out of his writing about literature, anyway, and a little out of the fun he had deliberately embarrassing philosophers.
Oh, well. The disciplinary approach makes it easier to measure contributions and progress, I suppose, but it's also simply division of labor, a mode of controlling people that isn't entirely free of oppression. Stick to your job description, buddy, unless you have that certain je ne sais quoi that licenses you to venture out and away. Not entirely coincidentally, Ruchira has also just posted about, among other things, a slightly confessional account, appearing in the same online publication as the review, of the work of academic philosophy by an accomplished philosopher, Raymond Geuss, who addresses this very issue: "But our networks of institutionally anchored universal ratiocination are hard to escape. How in fact could one get out, assuming one wanted to?" Geuss doesn't consider charisma as one avenue, but that may be because one can't choose to be charismatic in the same way one can choose to be courageous. For better or worse, Derrida quite evidently had charisma, as did his now deeply unpopular colleague and friend, the comparative literature scholar Paul de Man. And it is fascinating that this recent discussion by Geuss about escaping his "mildly discreditable day job" was intimated long ago in a public—if not exactly popular—correspondence between Geuss and de Man in the pages of Critical Inquiry.
De Man's surrebuttal to Geuss's criticism of de Man's article about Hegel begins by noting "the tenuous relationships between the disciplines of philosophy and literary theory." De Man celebrates this nascent interdisciplinary cross-pollination, but he also recognizes the anxiety caused by the decay of disciplinary borders. That may be why according to de Man, "Geuss's stance, throughout the commentary, is to shelter the canonical reading of what Hegel actually thought and proclaimed from readings which allow themselves, for whatever reason, to tamper with the canon." It is no surprise that a scholar devoted to sheltering the canon, as de Man perceived things, might experience his work as taking place in a "conformist, claustrophobic, and repressive verbal universe." I read the de Man-Geuss correspondence when it occurred, back in the early '80s, and I obviously haven't forgotten it. Only now does it strike me that it had all of the trappings for me of popular cultural spectacle, a sort of textual extreme fighting. I don't even care to proclaim a winner in the bout, but the pummeling each writer inflicted on the other was violence to savor.
and excellence, and its prescription that excellence "should be our motto as we institute a new model for the humanities," evidently Jonny Thakkar is unaware of the late Bill Readings' University in Ruins. See Harvard UP's description, particularly the second half of the second paragraph. Oops.