Man of letters

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Man of letters was a term used to refer to intellectuals who devote their lives to reading and writing.


  • On se fâche souvent contre les Gens de Lettres qui se retirent du monde. On veut qu’ils prennent intérêt à la Société dont ils ne tirent presque point d’avantage. On veut les forcer d’assister éternellement aux tirages d’une loterie où ils n’ont point de billet.
    • People are always annoyed by men of letters who retreat from the world; they expect them to continue to show interest in society even though they gain little benefit from it. They would like to force them be present when lots are being drawn in a lottery for which they have no tickets.
  • The intellectual par excellence used to be the writer: as a universal consciousness, a free subject, he was counterpoised to those intellectuals who were merely competent instances in the service of the state or capital. ... Writing, as the sacralizing mark of the intellectual, has disappeared.
  • A well-known magazine asks a man how they should refer to him, as Psychologist X, as Author X? He suggests man of letters, for that is what he is, in the eighteenth-century meaning. But they can’t buy that because the word doesn’t exist in Time-style; he cannot be that, and presumably the old function of letters cannot exist.

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