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Minority Intellectualism in America: Lives, Literature, and Institutions


This dissertation investigates the experiences of prominent, minority intellectuals in American culture. To add nuance to critical accounts of American intellectuals that define that subject as universal and autonomous, this project introduces the race and gender into those discussions while acknowledging to the role the modern university has had in maintaining that position. Rather than argue that the university is no longer conducive to intellectual life, this project suggests that such stances negate the struggles for access to and representation in the academy on behalf of minority intellectuals. Moreover, this project questions the timeliness of such views, as they arise precisely at the moments when minority intellectuals begin to initiate structural change to the American university.

This project begins by setting the historical and theoretical foundations for how the intellectual has normally been understood by combining the work of Richard Hofstadter and Russell Jacoby with the theories of intellectualism described by writers like Edward Said and Antonio Gramsci. The introduction then turns to a case study of William Faulkner to argue that his work questions the class and regional biases that underlie intellectualism at an historical moment when the intellectual was undergoing a radical revision.

The chapters that follow more thoroughly consider the categories of race and gender in the making of intellectuals and turns to the lives and work of Ralph Ellison, Mary McCarthy, Américo Paredes, and Tomás Rivera. The first chapter argues that Ellison used Invisible Man to work through the crisis of the black intellectual later discussed by theorists like Harold Cruse. The second chapter on Mary McCarthy shows how even non-academic, progressive spheres like the New York intellectual circle rely on a normative conception of intellectualism that performs a hegemonic function counter to the aims of women intellectuals. My closing chapter on Paredes and Rivera theorizes the condition of the Chicano intellectual in light of the development of Chicano studies more broadly by contextualizing the communal, educational efforts of El Movimiento of the 1960s. Read together, these sections illustrate the sociohistorical and theoretical impasses that make minority intellectualism a condition worthy of more critical consideration.

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