Why the American intelligentsia of this day and age assumes a “historical position” such as the one which the French Encyclopedists of the 18th century assumed is because just as there was a “revolutionary current” in the air in Europe at the time of the French Encyclopedists, there is now a revolutionary current in the air globally in this day and age. In turn, American intellectuals and writers are not detached or isolated from the revolutionary currents and trends of what is essentially a global milieu that is undergoing a massive change and revolution in terms of ideas, mores, norms, and thoughts. In fact, as a result of advances in globalization and technology, American intellectuals and writers are perhaps at the forefront of this global change and revolution.
It has been argued that there are three specific dimensions, elements, or facets to the revolution of thought both in the ‘Enlightenment’ Europe of the past and in the United States and around the globe in this day and age. For one, there is the recollection of memory taking place which entails both a much-needed revision and inscription of history. Second, there is the outburst of imagination which is then manifested in changes and developments in art and culture. And third, there is an evolution of reason which is then translated into a revival of knowledge and philosophy.
In short, and as Gramsci suggested, today’s global intelligentsia “must fuse the struggle for a new culture (that is, for a new humanism) and criticism of social life, feelings and conceptions of the world with aesthetic or purely artistic criticism, and it must do so with heat and passion, even if it takes the form of sarcasm.” We are in a specific “socio-historical moment” where between two members of this global intelligentsia “one can be an artist and the other a mere scribbler.” Some within the global intelligentsia are “representative” of the changes and the revolution taking place, while others are “reactionary and anachronistic elements” who respond to the socio-historical moment in a totally different manner.
Art itself – which as mentioned before consists of one out of the three basic dimensions or elements of any revolution in thought – can be divided into three types, as Gramsci suggested. For one, there is authentic and “rational” art. Second, there is “decorative” or “industrial” art. Gramsci argued that “any artistic manifestation that is meant to satisfy the taste of individual wealthy buyers, to ‘embellish’ their lives as they say, should always be called industrial.” Gramsci added: “When art, especially in its collective forms, aims to create a mass taste, to elevate this taste, it is not ‘industrial,’ but disinterested.” Hence, we have authentic, industrial, and mass art, all of which play a role in both the politics and socialization of a society.
There is also an organizational factor behind the cultural politics involving art, socialization through art, and the compartmentalization of art, as Gramsci noted. Much of the organizational focus behind art and its instrumentalization has to do with reactionary and anachronistic forces slowing down or completely stopping the change and the revolution from occurring and taking place. Both the change and the reaction to the change on the part of anachronistic and reactionary central forces have consequences, given that both the change and the reaction pertain to the basic organization of society. But the fact that the issue of basic organization is behind both change and the reaction to change does not marginalize or devalue the cultural and social implications of such change and the reaction to such change.