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Posted at 7:45 AM ET, 12/29/2010

Denis Dutton's digital legacy

By Anne Applebaum

I never met Denis Dutton, and didn't know him at all, in fact. But when I clicked on the Arts and Letters Daily Web site yesterday and found it ringed with a black border, I wished that I had. For the better part of the past decade, Arts and Letters Daily has been the only non-news Web site I have checked faithfully, almost every time I turn on my computer. For those who don't know it, the site is an aggregator Dutton founded that collects and republishes an amazingly eclectic group of articles, book reviews, essays and columns on an impressively wide range of subjects. This week, those subjects include Walter Benjamin, the Hope Diamond, Giacomo Leopardi and the Aral Sea in Karakalpakstan. Often the views expressed are contrarian, but not always. Dutton and his team have also included quirky bits of research, pieces of beautiful prose, meditations on the current state of English grammar. If all you read every day were the articles Dutton recommended, you would have a pretty good idea of what was going in, well, the world of arts and letters.

Dutton's obituary is now there, too -- or, rather, obituaries, since Arts and Letters Daily makes a practice of publishing multiple obituaries, favorable and otherwise, of important cultural figures when they die. Dutton lived in New Zealand and wrote only one book -- on Darwinism and aesthetics -- and was not a household name. But as one of the first to see how the Internet could be used to disperse interesting ideas, Dutton was a seriously important cultural figure. I hope Arts and Letters Daily lives on forever without him.

By Anne Applebaum  | December 29, 2010; 7:45 AM ET
Categories:  Applebaum  | Tags:  Anne Applebaum  
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