The Mr. Bean film sees the eponymous hero, a hapless museum attendent, foisted on a foreign museum under the pretence that he is a visiting expert. Grilled about his critical methods, he answers that “I sit and look at the paintings”. The museum officials, impressed by this back-to-basics approach, immediately hire him.
Beyond the world of farce, there’s always a bubbling undercurrent of non-professional intellectuals, independent scholars by choice or implication, sometimes producing work of staggering quality but entirely lacking in professional ambition. Over the years, they build up devoted, if rarely large, audiences — people cutting their essays out of whatever small magazine they can get published in, stashing away otherwise-forgotten gems, like the cluster of music geeks hovering around that promising local band which never quite gets a CD out. The internet makes it much easier, of course.
It also, incidentally, provides a more positive view of Opus Dei, as a form of social innovation more suited to the young and devote than traditional orders:
“For several hundred years,” he told me, “a small minority of Italian/French/Spanish adolescent peasant or working-class boys — usually the sternly repressed or (like me) libido-deficient ones — have been devout, well-behaved, studious… the bright ones become Jesuits; the more modestly gifted or mystically inclined become Franciscans…”
Instead, he was drawn into Opus Dei — a group trying, as he puts it, “to make a new kind of religious vocation possible, combining the traditional virtues and spiritual exercises with a professional or business career.”