Idea Of The Day

Why Lingua Franca Matters


Lingua Franca, the magazine of academic life, closed abruptly last month. Appreciations for the publication founded by Jeffrey Kittay in 1990 continue to appear, and many of its friends (including me) hope to see it resurface once a new patron has been found. In this week’s edition of the New York Observer, Ron Rosenbaum praises the magazine’s present and past editors, Margaret Talbot, Judith Shulevitz, and Alexander Star, and lists some of the best pieces that appeared in its pages. (You can read several of these online—the Web site continues to function for now.) In Rosenbaum’s view:

Lingua Franca had been an absolutely invaluable and highly influential resource, searching out the genuinely important controversies over ideas emerging from the academic world. Searching through the vast torrents of jargon-addled dross to find and convey the rare excitement of real thinkers grappling with original ideas. And exposing the sad comedy of pretentious sophists confecting academic simulacra of real thinking.

Hear, hear.

Among Lingua Franca’s many achievements was that it avoided the temptation to present the academy in its ugliest light—as a place of faction, feud, money, dissembling, back-stabbing, and much else that routinely passes for everyday “academic  life.” There were of course famous articles about charlatans and imposters on American campuses, and heaven knows how many other frauds have found refuge in humanities departments across the country. One reason (among many) the magazine was important was that it went after such people. Cynics may argue that the absence of academic politics is the magazine’s weakness. I say, on the contrary, it is Lingua Franca’s great strength—and it’s to the editors’ immense credit—that the magazine made such a noble effort to portray academia as a place of ideas (both good and bad) rather than a home to squalid vendettas. So, here’s to you, Jeffrey, Margaret, Judith, and Alex. Well done!