By chance, I came across the book (actually, I bought it for 60 Cuban pesos in a used bookstore) by the French journalist Guy Sorman called “The real thinkers of our time”, published in Spanish in 1991 (the French language original dates from 1989). It is a volume of interviews with intellectuals chosen by the author.
The list of interviewees includes (in order of appearance) Carl Sagan, James Lovelock, Ilya Prigogine, René Thom, Stephen J. Gould, Edward O. Wilson, Motoo Kimura, Claude Levi-Strauss, Noam Chomsky, Zhao Fusan, Bruno Bettelheim, Thomas Szasz, Marvin Minsky, Ernst Nolte, Edward Teller, Milovan Djilas, Yuri Afanasiev, Kenji Nakagami, Friedrich von Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Octavio Paz, Ashis Nandy, MS Swaminathan, René Girard, Claude Tresmontant, Karl Popper, Ernst Gombrich and Isaiah Berlin
I am fully aware that the list reads almost like a litany… but it communicates quite well the spirit of the times: almost a quarter century ago.
Some of the names interviewed - all are male – are still alive, others are dead. There is a substantial a group of scientists, including mathematicians, physicists, linguists and evolutionist-biologists, representatives of the trendy thinking of the day, … several Nobel laureates, social thinkers supporting liberalism (shared by the author), a supporter of Perestroika, and a small group of Asians (the most interesting interviews by the way, even though their names are still virtually unknown today in the internet age).
But certainly, despite the bias, you cannot read the list or the book without feeling a touch of reverence: in large part these people made the twentieth century, the second half in any case, from the H bomb to interstellar flight…they discuss the Holocaust, the proceedings of modern science, the acquisition of language, evolutionary processes and the meaning of contemporary art.
I write all this simply to raise a few questions: what kind of a list would a writer draw up TODAY?
Doubtlessly you would have to include a few representative figures, but would the list of names (or at least some of them) have the same profound impact as Sorman’s list of 1989? Yes, that was a period of great change, and you have to discuss those changes somehow. That was why Sorman went to all that trouble. But how would we go about it today?
In the Internet age, space travel is no big thing and for many may be a bore (is internet is more exciting than the cosmos? Does anyone believe that?) in the same way as ideologies at a time when post-modernism itself is finished – how can we find a substitute for the energy of the generation involved in the war effort of 1939-1945, and that of the baby-boomers, who came immediately after?
Because those baby-boomers are the children of global hope in the postwar period, of the best time (now ended) for the old social and enthusiastic Europe, they are the parents of the protests of the ’60s, of the collapses of the ’80s, and of we ourselves.
What heads would we tune our minds into today? And would these minds come anywhere close to those I have listed? Who would we interview today?