Denis Dutton, professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand and founding editor of Arts & Letters Daily, died of cancer on Tuesday.
Long before any of us had RSS readers or a collection of blog feeds—in 1998, several generations in Internet years—Dutton created Arts & Letters Daily, which aggregated links to the most interesting book reviews, essays, and articles touching on all aspects of culture. He was the driving force behind the site, its chief search engine and blurb writer, and it always held something of interest for anyone with a little time to spend sifting through. I’m guessing that kind of free-associative curation was an inspiration to a lot of folks who blog now; it definitely was one of mine. I discovered A&LD when I first went online and it’s always lived on my bookmarks toolbar, through a long series of computers and browsers. According to Current Biography Monthly Magazine,
The site was sparked when Dutton put together a list of academics’ e-mail addresses, so that he could send colleagues links to on-line articles he found interesting, relevant, or thought-provoking. “Searching for material to put on [a mass email], I inadvertently had become something of an expert on the availability of good reading available on the Internet.”
He originally patterned his design on the early American broadsheet, and it never evolved far from that model. But it always had one of the best sidebars around, and I was always proud to see Open Letters Monthly there while scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. The Chronicle of Higher Education bought the site in 2002, and Chronicle president and editor in chief Phil Semas says they “intend to continue Arts & Letters Daily in the spirit in which Denis created and nurtured it.” The London Observer once declared A&LD the world’s best Web site, and while it’s given birth to a whole lot of competition since then without changing much itself, there will always be a place for it—in my heart and on my bookmarks toolbar, at the very least. Condolences to Dutton’s family, and best of luck to whomever picks up the Arts & Letters Daily mantle.