RIP, Denis Dutton

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.


4 Comments to RIP, Denis Dutton

  1. December 30, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I’m another of the many who, like you, always kept an eye on A&L Daily, and one of my own proudest moments was finding a link to my Open Letters essay on Gone with the Wind there. Another very proud professional moment was publishing an essay in Philosophy and Literature. I’m glad A&L Daily will carry on–and I hope the Bad Writing contest will too.

  2. December 31, 2010 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    I’ve been stimulated by A&LD for some years now, and mention our loss of Denis within our local ‘Arts in Shoalhaven’ web site, in its News & Events column at above URL address.
    As we say it’s the thinking person’s start-of-day primer web site, and it’s pleasing to know it will continue.

  3. PatD's Gravatar PatD
    December 31, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I’ve been reading A&L Daily since its inception. It remains at the top of my bookmark list. RIP Denis. Your efforts were much appreciated.

  4. January 14, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    we, down under, the river Rhine amougst others, weren’t all too familiar with Arts & Letters. since reading about Denis Duttons passing away I can only mourn, not only about his early death but also not being informed earlier about the existance of A&L.

    a true literary goldmine, for one, a far cry from the shallow crap we down under have to swallow after being served in our silly lit. mags. every author, wannabe or arrived, should use A&L as a buoy, a lifeguard, yes, a harness, for the ride is getting tough, tougher then ever.

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