Noam Chomsky Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The New York Times has called Chomsky “the most important intellectual alive today.” He is most noted for revolutionizing the scientific study of language by introducing a theory that explains the creative and innovative nature of language. Often an outspoken critic of government policy, Chomsky has argued that as in fully censored societies the American media manipulate the population, whom he has called the “bewildered herd.” By suppressing information, selectively choosing topics, distorting political discussion, by portraying the United States as an innocent and benevolent bystander in world affairs, and by misrepresenting foreign policies, the media have prevented people from fully understanding and dealing with the “real” problems. Further, he has charged that the media perpetuate the power of the rich and sanction inequalities, oppression, and violence in American society. Rather than calling this mind-control censorship, Chomsky has called it manufacturing of consent, manipulation, and diversion of the masses, and collusion between the government and the media.

Chomsky has explained his own virtual exile from, and marginal status in, American mainstream media as part of the conspiracy to deride him as anti-American, Marxist, and a conspiracy theorist. Internationally, however, he is considered one of the world’s most brilliant intellectuals. Chomsky does not deny that the United States is an open society giving its citizens the freedom to criticize and challenge and free access to massive amounts of information. However, the public relies on mainstream news for information which has been constructed to practice ideological control. Chomsky claims that overt censorship might not exist in the United States but “the results remain much the same as if there were censorship.”


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Avram Noam Chomsky (CHOM-skee) achieved renown both as a pioneer in the field of linguistics and as a political dissenter. He was born on December 7, 1928, in Philadelphia, the son of William Chomsky, a Russian Jewish immigrant who taught Hebrew, and his wife, Elsie (Simonofsky) Chomsky. During his studies for a doctorate, Chomsky engaged in the theoretical work that produced a new type of linguistics: generative transformational grammar. Soon after receiving a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955, he became assistant professor of modern languages and linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). When his groundbreaking Syntactic Structures was published in 1957, Noam Chomsky’s unorthodox linguistic theories had only a few supporters in the academic world. He gained a wider reputation in 1959 by publishing a blistering review of Verbal Behavior (1957), a work by the behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skinner. By 1965, when Chomsky’s second major theoretical work, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, appeared, his theories had won acceptance in universities throughout the United States.

From the mid-1960’s onward, Chomsky was widely viewed as the most articulate opponent of the Vietnam War in academic circles. In 1969 his essays on the Vietnam War and on American liberal intellectuals’ alleged responsibility for that war, written for various magazines since 1966, were published in American Power and the New Mandarins. Later, two other collections of essays on the war appeared, At War with Asia and For Reasons of State; the latter also included an attack on behaviorist psychology and two essays expounding Chomsky’s political ideal of libertarian socialism.

With the end of the Vietnam War, Chomsky’s type of political analysis went out of fashion for a while. In the 1980’s his popularity was revived somewhat by widespread anxiety about the growing United States involvement in Central America. In The Fateful Triangle Chomsky accuses the United States of encouraging what he regards as Israeli intransigence toward the Palestinian Arabs; in Turning the Tide, he attacks American policy toward Nicaragua and El Salvador; and in Manufacturing Consent (adapted for film by the National Film Board of Canada in 1993), he criticizes as biased American press and television coverage of United States foreign policy. In the 1990’s Chomsky’s concerns focused on American involvements in Haiti and Bosnia. He continued to write and speak about American foreign policy and to teach courses in linguistics at MIT.

Prior to Chomsky, linguistics accepted behaviorist psychology’s explanation of how human beings learn language. Behaviorists, who saw no substantial difference between...

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(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Barksy, Robert F. Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT University Press, 1997. A biography that emphasizes Chomsky’s political views. For a review of this work see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Calvin, William H., and Derek Bickerton. Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT University Press, 2000. Calvin, a neurophysiologist, and Bickerton, a linguist, attempt to reconcile Chomsky’s ideas of deep linguistic structure with evolutionary theory about the development of the human mind.

Chomsky, Noam. Chomsky: Selected Readings. Edited by J. P. B. Allen and Paul Van Buren. New York: Oxford University Press,...

(The entire section is 475 words.)