I was so glad to have an opportunity to write a review of Zena Hitz’s insightful and often lyrical book Lost in Thought for Commonweal (also featured today at Arts & Letters Daily). A member of the faculty at St. John’s College, Hitz offers a plausible diagnosis of some anti-intellectual trends in American higher education, but her book is especially fascinating to read as a precaution against some of the pandemic-related pitfalls awaiting our classrooms this fall. Chiefly, she worries about “opinionization,” a phenomenon she defines as “the reduction of thinking and perception to simple slogans or prefabricated positions,” and I suggest that the scalability of our universities’ technological adaptations will catalyze such adulterated intellectualism:
This kind of mental necrosis has its own underlying causes: like our worst politicians, it’s a symptom more than the disease itself. For Hitz, genuine intellectual work depends upon intimate settings, forthright conversation, and modest-sized “communion.” Thoughtless opinionization, by contrast, stems from our “system of higher education [where] person-to-person teaching belongs only to a handful of liberal arts colleges and to elite doctoral programs.” Hitz, whose background is in ancient philosophy, perhaps takes inspiration here from the observation, in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, that a small-scale setting like a courtroom or seminar table is a precondition for nuanced inquiry. Lecture-hall ostentation—domain of the pundit and the PowerPoint presentation—might make for an entertaining spectacle, but it’s antithetical to real intellectual activity.
Visit Commonweal to read the rest of the review.