December 28, 2010


Denis Dutton, Founder of Arts & Letters Daily, RIP (Nick Gillespie | December 28, 2010, Reason)

Founded in 1998, Arts & Letters Daily was one of the first great aggregator sites, pulling together reviews, essays, studies, op-eds, and more from a vast array of sources that had suddenly become available at the click of a mouse. Only a dozen years on, it's hard to remember the excitement that such developments brought to those of us (read: all of us) who had been starved for content in ways that we didn't even understand. Back in 1994, Reason Editor in Chief Virginia Postrel surveyed the coming age of info-plenty and dubbed it "The Age of the Editor." More information, she argued, was going to drive the need for good editors - folks who could sift through the gush of material and deliver quality connections - through the roof. As important, she stressed that we were going to need new meeting places that crossed all sorts of firmly established lines.

Abundance of information and media creates a role for bridges between subcultures. Indeed, one of my most important roles as editor of Reason is to act as a translator among at least four wildly different subcultures: the various policy establishments of Washington; the economists, political scientists, historians, and natural scientists of the academy; the small business owners of middle America; and the techies of Silicon Valley and cyberspace. In other words, Reason is the place where the readers of The New Republic,The Journal of Economic Literature, Science, Inc., and Wired find common ground.

And Arts & Letter Daily was where the world went to find common ground and hear a good argument or 10. Denis and his original crew of grad students and other helpers sifted through all the Web had to offer and, day after day, posted interesting material from folks on the right, the left, and, most memorably for those of us at Reason, from that once-small portion of political spectrum reserved for libertarians. There were days when a link at Arts & Letters not only put the author on a cloud for the rest of the day (you knew you were being read by folks who otherwise never would have heard of you, your publication, or your crazy ideas) but would crash our servers with traffic.

Arts & Letters was later joined by other sites such Scitech Daily which similarly created and fueled conversations that were once impossible to have; in 1999, the Chronicle of Higher Education bought it but wisely kept Denis at the rudder.

In effect, Denis created the world's greatest coffee house and magazine rack, a place where interested customers could dawdle all day while reading an endless stream of fascinating material pulled from the far edges of the galaxy. His personal site was more idiosyncratic but brilliantly showcases the mind of a man who made the world a vastly richer, smarter, more interesting place.

Denis Dutton dies; author, philosopher, brother to L.A. booksellers (December 28, 2010, LA Times)

Denis Dutton, the author, academic and philosopher who saw the Web as a place where intelligent ideas could flourish, has died in New Zealand at the age of 66, according to New Zealand news sources. Dutton was raised in Los Angeles and was the brother of booksellers Doug and Dave Dutton of the legendary Dutton's Bookstores in Los Angeles.

Dutton was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. In 1998, he founded the website Arts and Letters Daily, an aggregator of intellectual Web content that swiftly caught worldwide attention. His most recent book was 2009's "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution."

Our reviewer Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, wrote, " 'The Art Instinct' is an important book that raises questions often avoided in contemporary aesthetics and art criticism. ... His arguments against major figures in the philosophy and anthropology of the arts are often devastating -- and amusing."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2010 8:32 PM
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