So far, I've been enjoying my trial period at League of Ordinary Gentlemen. And I think it's been going okay. It's hard to tell: they might be getting dozens of "cancel my subscription!" emails that I don't know about. I do have to say that I am enjoying blogging about "academic" topics without having to think like an academic. It's a bit like making a jailbreak from my day job.
Now, when I say "thinking like an academic", I don't mean a matter of being more intelligent than the average bear. In fact, I have not found that academics I know are significantly more intelligent than civilians. In some areas, of course, they're actually a bit less savvy. But, there is a sort of professionalization of thought that goes on when you're in academia. You learn to get your footnotes in order, so to speak. I don't know that your actual cognition improves; but you develop a certain amount of expertise on a particular subject and know when you are sufficiently informed to speak on that topic in a scholarly way, and when you should keep quiet.
Therefore, in "real life", there are really only about four or five topics that I would feel comfortable speaking about in a lecture hall or at a conference. When my area of research pulls me into a new direction (always happening!), I have to head to the library and nail down the 'textbook answer' about that new topic. If I had to, say, discuss Madame Bovary in an academic context, I'd really feel like I was obliged to first hit the stacks and learn about Flaubert, French literature, and what has been said and thought about the novel, before I wrote or spoke about it. I would probably feel guilty if I just read the novel and held forth on it based on my own responses. And I think that guilty conscience is what I mean when I talk about "professionalization". Academics tend to keep their intellect zipped up, if you know what I mean!
What's good about blogging on the Iliad or Plato is that I am a complete and utter novice; a pisher! A poseur! A beginner. I have to think about these books in a non-academic way, just in order to get anything done! My life would be a shambles if I was trying to learn ancient Greek right now, and I think I might be looking at the books in a different way. For me, reading the "great books" is like learning about a foreign culture through immersion. It's like being plunked down in the middle of a Moscow supermarket and having to get something done. The fun of it is taking stabs in the dark and getting to hear what other people have to say. On occasion, I've heard from actual scholars, although not as much as I'd like.
It's problematic, this academic habit of making people study everything for years before they can write on it, while teaching undergrads a little bit of everything. On one hand, this system has produced some of the best scholars in the world. But, there's a tendency for academic writing to be so narrow and specialized that you have to go through six years of grad school to read it! This causes there to be a gap between "popular" books and "academic" books, and it's hard to tell if that gap isn't really a matter of snobbery and university press protectionism. The end result, however, is that less and less civilians want to commit themselves to the humanities, which are really accessible to all people, but which we like to pretend require some specialized "higher" knowledge. The humanities seem arcane and obscure to people, when they actually take human beings as their subject matter.
I don't mean to bash academics once again- what I'm trying to suggest is that it's not a matter of snobbery or protecting a monopoly, as much as a matter of ingrained, professionalized insecurity. None of us wants to be called out for being ill-informed on a topic. But this makes it hard to achieve the sort of interdisciplinarity that everyone in the humanities talks about wanting; and it also makes it hard to relate to young people who often want to talk about academic subjects without first getting their papers in order!
If we're going to think freely, I think we need to spend more time thinking without first getting the proper scholarly clearance. The Internet seems as good a place to start as any.
(Note: Reworked notes on The Iliad here. Notes on Bach's cantata 82 coming soon, in spite of music being one of those areas in which I am a complete pisher.)