I was off-network for longer over Christmas than I'd expected, and only learned a few days ago that Denis Dutton, founder and guiding intellect of Arts and Letters Daily, had died. I wanted to offer a few belated words of tribute.
I adored A&L--"a daily reading list, with attitude," Dutton called it--from the start. The site's tastes seemed uncannily aligned with my own. Every piece it linked to was worth reading. The presentation was simple and unfussy. No pictures, no video; no Facebook, no Twitter, no time-wasting clutter. The links (all of them, apparently, written by Dutton himself) were clever and funny, and expressed a lightly carried sense of purpose: opposed to pretentiousness and obfuscation, standing for curiosity, skepticism and open-mindedness. Some obituarists called Dutton a contrarian--meaning to forgive, I think, certain of his views they objected to (on climate change, for instance). No, a contrarian opposes for the sake of opposing. That was not Dutton. Open-mindedness is not contrarianism.
I regret never meeting him. We exchanged emails from time to time; he was always charming and modest. A couple of times I hoped our paths were about to cross but it never happened.
A&L was the first highbrow aggregator of its kind and with Dutton in charge it remained the best. I hope it continues and wish it well, but can't help thinking he is irreplaceable.