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September 05, 2002

Columnist Shootout

Friedrich --

After much enjoyably self-important mulling and musing, I’ve decided that the best journalistic essayists now writing are John Derbyshire, Theodore Dalrymple, Mark Steyn, and Robert Fulford.

Do you know their work? In case you don't, here are examples of each of them in fine form:

Mark Steyn, here.

Theodore Dalyrymple, here.

John Derbyshire, here.

Robert Fulford, here.

Civilized, provocative, stylish and brainy, each one.

Do you marvel, as I do, at the inability of Americans to enjoy examples of what they disagree with? It seems terribly difficult for an American to read or hear something he disagrees with and yet enjoy it. Why, do you suppose?

Years ago, I spent a while writing for an English magazine. What a treat. There may be much to be said against the English, but in their favor is the fact that many seem to have no trouble enjoying provocation as a form of intellectual entertainment. It's a ritual and a game: the writer takes an extreme stance, the reader cheers or is annoyed by the point of view, but applauds the presentation if and when it strikes him as well done. In fact, without sufficient provocation the English reader seems bored.

Americans, on the other hand, are often earnest beyond belief. If we don’t agree we go ballistic, in one way or another. Big-city types, I find, often go (ponderously, savagely) on the personal attack. Small-city and backwater Americans tend to feel hurt or enraged; they often look like they’re going to cry.

I wonder if this is because we're so hopelessly mixed-up about sophistication. We either revere it and identify with it (the big city), or it ticks us off and makes us feel like we're being looked down on by snobs (mid-America).

In any case: ah, for the chance to enjoy both sides of a debate. But maybe I'm perverse. Most people seem to want to root for a team; I usually find myself rooting for the game. (After all, it's not as though my opinion is going to effect the result.)

Culture partisan that I am, I find myself wondering plaintively why there aren’t people writing (commenting, etc.) at a similarly high level in the arts. Though Steyn does write well about the theater, and Fulford checks in with the occasional good piece about cultural matters…



posted by Michael at September 5, 2002


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