Prompted by a comment by Susan on this post about academic writing (among other things) at Frogs and Ravens, I've been thinking about intellectual communities. Specifically, I've been trying to envision what "my ideal intellectual community ... would look like," to borrow Susan's terms. The following is a provisional attempt at defining my own ideal intellectual community, or IIC for short. (For some reason I keep thinking "ideal city," which keeps reminding me of Calvino's Invisible Cities, but I think that's a sign of my homesickness for cities larger than Collegeville.) Anyway, here's the list. What do y'all think?
1. The IIC would consist of people who aren't competing with each other for funds, status, recognition, or employment. Intellectual work would not be a zero-sum game to determine who can publish the most, or the fastest, or with the most prestigious publisher.
2. In fact, now that I think about it, publication wouldn't be all-important. Exchange of intellectual work, yes; but that wouldn't be limited to the traditional options of journal article and monograph. Blogging would count. So would conversation over dinner. In point of fact, I've always preferred the less formal ways academics have of sharing their work. At conferences, it's not the panels I really go for, though there's usually a paper or two I'm glad to have heard (sometimes more, depending on the conference); it's the opportunity to meet someone who happens to know a lot about something really interesting, and to end up talking in the hotel bar until after midnight.
3. My IIC, like Susan's, would not be limited to academics. This is probably the corollary to point 1. More specifically: I want to see creative types there as well as the trained literary critics and historians and anthropologists and whatnot. I want to be able to talk to poets and musicians and artists. I want to be able to pick the brains of both musicologists and opera singers. I also want to be able to talk to people who've taken their academic training and put it to interesting uses.
3a. Having a mixture of academics and nonacademics would no doubt entail a lot of questions about who's talking to whom, and whether the point of our work would be to reach a wider public, and if so what to do about it. And I'm all in favor of that.
4. I think my IIC is a cross between a knitting circle and my favorite small academic conference. I want there to be enough common ground for everyone to be able to talk to each other, enough room for idiosyncrasy so that two people who work in completely different ways can compare methods without automatically thinking "This is just too unlike what I do." And I want there to be socializing, and dancing, and expeditions in search of the nearest restaurant with people I've just met.
This paper, which I'm not done reading yet, argues that good ideas are more likely to happen at the intersections between communities than within communities; that is, people within well-defined groups tend to think homogeneously, but people who can bridge the gaps between groups are more prone to new ideas. I want my IIC to be at once full of these intersections and self-identified as a community; whether that's possible is still an open question, though.
The blogosphere fulfills several of these conditions, but I'd like to be able to be in the same room with fellow IIC members. What I really want, I suspect, is a salon. I should've been born in the eighteenth century, goshdarnit! (Although on second thought, I'm also kind of attached to such innovations as full citizenship, property rights, modern dentistry, and not having to wear stays or an enormous hoop skirt.)
So: where are the salons of today? Have we anything similar? Am I overlooking any existing communities?