Lindsey Gilbert in the Boston Review:
Lindsey Gilbert: I’ve heard it said that there aren’t a whole lot of independent scholars and thinkers left—either they’ve been swallowed by the academy or given up and started blogging about their cats. Except you, you’ve been called an independent scholar, haven’t you? What does that mean?
George Scialabba: I have been miscalled, I think. I certainly don’t consider myself a scholar. In fact, I mostly read magazines. But an independent thinker—well, if it’s true, it’s because I have a day job [at Harvard]. The day job is a mixed blessing, of course. It’s dull, but it’s undemanding. It swallows half my time, but it doesn’t swallow my imagination, my reserves. I do feel lucky that I fell into a job like that; just as I owe some of my independence to rent control in Cambridge, I owe some of it to the fact that Harvard has a good union, at least for my kind of employees, clerical and technical workers. But I really worry about whether my good fortune is replicable for someone starting out with the same aspirations.
LG: Why is that?
GS: It’s all laid out very well and presciently by Russell Jacoby in The Last Intellectuals. It’s about why the kind of intellectual that flourished in the thirties, forties, and fifties is a dying breed. That sounds a little bit nostalgic, but it’s just that the situation is less and less tenable. There’s no cheap urban real estate, it’s hard to survive without a regular salary, and academia has become professionalized in a way that it wasn’t in the thirties and forties.