German friends some things need to be written but don’t take them personally. If anything, as I write below, this presents a very large opportunity for who will take it.
I had my misgivings about what passes for intellectualism in Germany both in the newspapers and in the public debate. Germans pride themselves on being a country of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers) but traces of both are thin on the ground.
I wondered about this a bit more after the Nexus Conference in Amsterdam last year which staged thinkers such as Alain Badiou, Rory Stewart, Roger Scruton, Evgeny Morozov. My Dutch friends who attended exclaimed: ‘Where are the thinkers of this calibre in the Netherlands?’ Suffice it to say there aren’t any. Nobody really expect Dutch people to be the source of great thoughts, so no loss there.
But when I then asked for contemporary German thinkers, who are read widely abroad, my friends on Twitter came up with this very thin list:
Contemporary German thinkers people came up with yesterday: Sloterdijk, Jelinek, Roche, Grass
— Alper Çuğun (@alper) December 16, 2012
I would say that Grass, Sloterdijk and Jelinek can just barely be called contemporary (the same with Habermas) and Roche hardly an intellectual.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one to notice it. Slavoj Žižek, however repugnant I find the man, mentions in a recent Salon interview:
That said, I quite admire the United States and Canada. In some ways, they are better than Europe now. France and Germany, for instance, are currently in a very low state intellectually — especially Germany. Nothing interesting is happening there. Yet it surprises me how intellectually alive The United States and Canada are. Let me give you an example: Hegelian studies. If Europeans want to understand Hegel, they go to Toronto or Chicago or Pittsburgh.
This may be a bit hard to stomach if you’re German, it isn’t too bad for aspiring thinkers. In a country where the point of everything is drowned out in a sea of pompous verbosity, opportunities abound for those with a fresh perspective and proper delivery.