This weekend included my continued, slow-reading of Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought: the Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life. Now the title could be off-putting if Hitz was a prima donna or one of those haughty, snobbish types. But, she is anything but. Her prose are readable and friendly, interesting and winsome. More often than not, she is telling stories—or, rather, retelling stories of the lives of those who have found consolation, inspiration, and purpose in the life of the mind.
She is also aware of the wider world, referencing notable films that are now on my Amazon watchlist—like Mona Achache’s 2009 The Hedgehog.
From those two sources, Hitz outlines four essential features of the genuine intellectual life: an inner retreat; a withdrawal from the world; a source of dignity; and a space for community. The next 50 pages of that chapter provide a compelling catalogue of intellectual vignettes, outside of the mainstream: depictions of a Palestinian peasant by numerous master painters; explorations of the cosmos by a German patent official (Einstein); the intellectual conversions of Malcolm X; the efforts of amateur astronomers, William and Caroline Herschel, discovering the farthest reaches of our solar system; and several more. The stories are compelling, and the theme is undeniable: “To exercise the love of learning is to flee what is worst in us for the sake of the better, to reach for more in the face of what is not enough.”
I would highly recommend Hitz’s memoir, both as a collection of vivid vignettes and as a reflection on what the life of the mind can be for anyone willing to claim that most human birthright.