Poor Jude wants nothing more than to go to school—but society keeps putting obstacles in his way. Again and again, Jude is thwarted, and—spoiler alert, but no surprise, since this is Thomas Hardy—things don't end well for the poor guy. Even though he began life with the absolute best of intentions and was full of promise and a sense of possibility, society just wouldn't let it happen.
And there you have it, folks: a fictional illustration of my claim that "all men are intellectuals … but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals" (source). Jude begins as an intellectual, and he desperately strives to become the kind of man who can "have in society the function of" an intellectual. But he isn't allowed into the closed circle of intellectuals.
Like many people of his class, Jude is prevented from realizing his full intellectual potential; he is destined to fulfill a different function. According to me, this doesn't make Jude any less of an intellectual, though. His sad fate just proves that things need to be changed, so that everyone can stay in school, even those now forced to drop out. (And yes, I mean forced.)
Like Jude, Dorothea's hungry for knowledge. Unlike Hardy's hero, she gets to acquire it, but along the way, she learns a lot about how wrong she was to think that intellectuals are always hotties. We can forgive her the book fetish—and the whole marrying a bump on a log thing—because she's always willing to change her mind and recognize when she has made a mistake, even if these realizations are a long time in coming.
Among other things, Dorothea realizes that she has been shut away from the world, kept apart from classes other than her own. George Eliot lets representatives of these lower classes into the novel and even lets the reader catch glimpses of workers mobilizing for reform.
Eliot's novel doesn't just include what I would call various "layers" of society; it also reflects on history in ways that are reminiscent of my work, which insists at every turn, like Middlemarch itself, that change is the order of the day, no matter what day it is.
Thomas Gray's famous poem puts us back in Jude's territory: the "mute inglorious Miltons" named in the "Elegy" are other kinds of born intellectuals who don't get the chance to exercise the function of intellectuals in society.
For Gray, it seems, this fact wasn't straightforwardly lamentable. The "Elegy" suggests that some people are just born to fulfill certain functions, while others are born to do bigger and better things.
Even so, the poem gives voice—even if it's an oddly "mute" voice—to the inborn possibilities of people who are blocked by society from realizing them.
Commemorating the Easter Rebellion, fought in the effort of gaining Irish independence from Britain, W.B. Yeats's poem keeps announcing: "A terrible beauty is born." That may remind you of a quote of mine: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born" (source).
Read alongside my claim about crisis, "Easter 1916" starts to sound a lot more optimistic than it might at first. If the "terrible beauty" that follows on the heels of defeat "is born," then this means that the new can be born, and that there's hope for the people, after all.
I had a complicated relationship with Giambattista Vico, that crazy brilliant 18th-century Italian philosopher, but I mostly admired him. Vico was famous for developing theories about history repeating that continue to fascinate philosophers of various stripes today.
Now, if you think "history" is all about scholars slaving away in dusty archives, think again. In Vico's New Science, history assumes literally epic proportions (he though epic, myth, and poetry were the foundation of all science and philosophy), and it's peopled with giants, gods, tyrants, rebels, and a whole host of other awesome types.
Maybe I didn't agree with everything the guy said, but I've got to admit he's a foundational pillar of Italian thought.
This is the kind of book I would have loved. Remember how said that "[t]he crisis consists in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born" (source)? Well, Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard shows this in action.
In this novel, it's the Italian aristocracy that's dying after Italian unification. And what's struggling to be born—with great difficulty, naturally—is the new, bourgeois nation (source). This "crisis" moment, as Lampedusa renders it, is bittersweet: The Leopard makes readers side with the aristocracy even while making them accept the inevitability of that ruling class's demise.
Here's another book I would have liked. Sapphire's Push inspired the heartrending movie Precious, but it's also a story about what happens when you stay in school.
This makes it Gramscian, if only in an indirect way. Remember how much I stressed the importance of education for everyone? Well, Sapphire definitely makes a case for staying in school, adapting this insight beautifully and provocatively for the contemporary urban U.S.