Is There Intellectual Life in Dallas?
by Virginia Postrel • Mar 5, 2005 at 4:01 pm
After nearly a year of dilly-dallying in meetings, the Dallas Morning News is finally launching its new Sunday opinion section, Points, edited by Rod Dreher. The inaugural issue features a debate on intellectual life in Dallas, with me taking the centrist position, Fred Turner arguing Dallas is great for intellectuals, and DMN book review editor Jerome Weeks saying it's lousy. Here's the opening of my piece (the first word should actually be "five," since I wrote it nine months ago):
Four years ago, I told my New York literary agent that I was moving from Los Angeles to Dallas. He replied, "You have my condolences."
Keep in mind that New Yorkers look down on L.A. Dallas is certainly not an obvious place to be an independent writer of serious nonfiction–a so-called public intellectual. You're an oddball here. Without a university job, you won't have colleagues to talk to. The closest real research library is in Austin. The bookstores' "new nonfiction" tables offer mostly talk show tie-ins and theology lite. The local paper runs short, boring book reviews.
"Provocative" is not a compliment in Dallas, except maybe to strippers. Few interesting, as opposed to merely famous, speakers come to town. People actually pay money to hear David Gergen on the platform with Bob Dole and Al Gore.
The professional intellectual could do a lot worse than Dallas, however. You could, for instance, be stuck in the provincial ghettos of New York or San Francisco. There you'd have lots of other writers to talk to. The newspaper would report publishing gossip as major business news. You'd go to book parties and free lectures. You'd know who was arguing with whom about what.
But unless you traveled a lot, you'd have no idea what the rest of American culture is like. Reporters in New York have called me up to ask about the business significance of Whole Foods Market and the cultural meaning of the Left Behind series–both ancient news everywhere but The New York Times. New York is an intellectual cave, and San Francisco is even worse.
Read all three entries here. And, for the record, I think Dallas, while no Silicon Valley, is a fine place for "smart people," a group that is much, much bigger than professional intellectuals. The folks at American Leather are incredibly smart.