Who’s the Mack?

by Scott McLemee on April 11, 2007

Every once in a while, I will read something that seems uniquely precise in describing aspects of my own condition. A piece from early last fall by Jerome Weeks — at that point book critic for the Dallas Morning News — was very much a case of that happening:

As Mark Twain observed, anything you’re not obliged to do is play. Anything else is work. And as a book journalist, one is obliged to race after the Media Now-Now-Now – what critic David Denby once called “information without knowledge, opinions without principles, instincts without beliefs.”

What’s more, book culture may seem a dwindling, quaint endeavor to advertisers in mad pursuit of illiterate teens and at a time when arts coverage in general is getting dumped or fragmented into a million Web sites. But there are hundreds of thousands more new books released per year than TV shows, sports programs, movies or CDs. For all the talk of the death of print, more people have access to more books now than at any time in history.

That’s amazing but it means keeping up is a full-time sprint. A book columnist must read in gross tonnage, read hastily in trains, planes and lunch lines and read books no one should bother with. One can endure a film or a concert for two hours; reading a pointless book can take days. Recall those dreaded high school assignments: A bad book can seem like a prison sentence.

I know, I know. You spend your time heroically putting out fires and saving lives in the ER. All of this reading doesn’t really sound like work to you. But it is. Otherwise, we wouldn’t pay researchers, law clerks, teachers or librarians.

OK, so we don’t pay them much….

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When I hear the word culture … aw, hell with it

by John Holbo on April 11, 2007

Jonah Goldberg is now grumbling that people are calling him stupid. But, to be fair, the upshot of Goldberg’s indignant response to Henry’s post would seem to be that Henry was actually too charitable to Goldberg’s original post. But I’m getting ahead of my story. Goldberg complains: “Any fair reader of my post (hint, that excludes Henry) would see that I was criticizing liberals and conservatives for not taking culture into account enough.” Now what would that too low accounting value be? “My point was not that culture is everything, but that government isn’t everything.” That is, Goldberg is claiming that the assignment of a non-zero significance to culture is bold contrarianism that places him at odds with both left and right. Of course, far from being a bold position, the claim that culture is not nothing is something everyone would grant freely, if it seemed to anyone worth mentioning.

To put it another way, Goldberg is making a standard rhetorical move which has no accepted name, but which really needs one. I call it ‘the two-step of terrific triviality’. Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so.

Hogging time at last

by Michael Bérubé on April 11, 2007

“Hogging” is a very special kind of blogging, in which I blather on about hockey at great length. How great? Well, let’s find out — but let’s keep it below the fold, out of consideration for the feelings of people who couldn’t care less:
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