The Best Literary Criticism of a Twitter Feed Yet

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Slate's Nathan Heller has written a gorgeous and generous piece of literary criticism. About two Twitter feeds. 


Weighing in at over 2,000 perfectly chosen words, Heller's dissection of the comic stylings of @CrankyKaplan and @WiseKaplan, both roasty tributes to former New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan, strikes me as a milestone for how we view -- and write about -- what's possible on Twitter. 

"[T]he Kaplan dispatches offer one of the most entertaining and ambitious uses of Twitter yet," Heller writes, explaining that the feeds are co-written by Peter Stevenson, former Observer executive editor, and Jim Windolf of Vanity Fair, who were Kaplan mentees in the early 90s.

Peter Kaplan is known to New York's newspaper readers as the man behind a jaunty, impudent voice that shaped the Observer through the flush years of the late '90s and on. Stevenson and Windolf, though, knew him as a boss, mentor, and eccentric. The Twitter parodies were meant to be an inside joke. Yet through their online comedy act, the journalists have nudged Twitter in a new, more literary direction. Unlike contrived and headache-inducing concepts like the "Twitter novel" or the serialized essay--long forms awkwardly broken into 140-character bits--the Kaplan narratives are colorful, varied, and fully wedded to the medium. 
If you still don't think Twitter can be a platform for valuable things, Heller might just change your mind. As for Kaplan, he doesn't seem to mind the attention, and it hasn't hurt his career: Fairchild Fashion Group announced that they've hired him as its new editorial director today.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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