“In a perfect world, intellectuals would be original, logical, funny and full of common sense. That is, they would be like John Carey.”
Chairperson: Selina Guinness Professor John Carey hasn’t left Oxford since he went up as an undergraduate in 1954, yet it would be hard to find a distinguished writer, academic and critic more passionately egalitarian. In his controversial study The Intellectuals and the Masses, he launched a devastating attack on the elitism of modernist writers, while in What Good Are the Arts? he argued that attempts to establish universal values for art are merely exercises in policing people’s taste. His passionate views extend to his journalism, where his rigorously honest book reviews for the Sunday Times have often proved controversial. Carey comes to Dublin to talk about The Unexpected Professor, a memoir that explores the origins of his iconoclasm, looking back over his early experiences in a suburban London caught up in the Blitz, and the stifling atmosphere of Oxford in the 1950s. He recalls inspiring meetings with poets like Auden and Heaney, and traces the path of a stellar academic career that saw him elected, at the age of 40, to Oxford’s oldest English Literature professorship. Like all his works, it’s a book about the pleasures of reading and, written with his trademark fluency and verve, one that delivers the pleasure it describes.