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The Essential Ellen Willis$
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Ellen Willis and Nona Willis Aronowitz

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780816681204

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816681204.001.0001

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Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity

Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity

(p.375) Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity
The Essential Ellen Willis

Nona Willis Aronowitz

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter examines one dilemma faced by American intellectuals and artists: how to reconcile intellectual or creative autonomy with making a living. In the 1960s, prosperity and cultural radicalism were symbiotic: easy access to money and other resources fueled social and cultural experimentation, while an ethos that valued freedom and pleasure encouraged people’s sense of entitlement to all sorts of goods, economic and political. Since the early 1970s, however, the symbiosis has been working in reverse: a steady decline in Americans’ standard of living has fed political and cultural conservatism, and vice versa. For the cultural right, austerity was not just an economic but a moral imperative. The culture of austerity has had a profoundly depressing effect on intellectual life. In particular, it has reinforced the characteristic anti-intellectualism of American culture. The chapter reflects on a stint as a member of New York University’s journalism faculty after working as a staff writer at the Village Voice from 1979 to 1990.

Keywords:   intellectuals, artists, cultural radicalism, cultural conservatism, austerity, intellectual life, anti-intellectualism, New York University, Village Voice

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