Elites & Pseudo-Elites

The portraits in prose collected in this book at once document the achievements of fourteen extraordinary individuals and represent a cumulative attempt to discover, through a succession of eminent examples, qualities typical of "master minds" in North America today; for in this disparate collection of men are, by all critical and historical criteria known to me, some of the world's most important artists and intellectuals, all of whom have done significant work of widely acknowledged excellence. Not only is each generally considered a master of his respective field, which is sometimes an intellectual specialty of his own creation; but each has also influenced professionals in other areas, as well as the lay intellectual public. As primary or originative minds, who create objects and ideas that command considerable influence outside their immediate environment, they master-mind the thinking of others. Indeed, they are often the brains behind the brains behind the brains behind the action. Master Minds is conceived as both a history and a report on these men, their ideas, and their activities.

Master Minds (1969)

Here's a game that can be played by any group knowledgeable about contemporary American writers. Get from the Academy a list of current members of its literature program. Then with your colleagues name a Shadow Academy, so to speak, of an equal number of American writers not currently members. May I wager that, if you give enough thought to this exercise, a selected alternative list of living writers would be competitive with, if not better than, the first. One-upping this fake elite is so easy may I imagine that you and your friends upon completing this exercise will congratulate yourselves. Consider that any self-styled “Academy” that allows itself to be so easily outmatched is irrelevant.

“Arnold Rampersand's Ralph Ellison” (2009)