Atlantic Essays

The Atlantic is slowly releasing its 2011 Essay Issue online. It promises to be chock-a-block with the works of people who know how to turn a phrase.  People who use the word chiaroscuro without effort or affect, and who probably know how to pronounce it correctly.  I can only assume they know the definition.

These same people will also scrupulously and mercifully avoid using the word angst in the colloquial sense that became so popular during the dawn of the Seattle Grunge Era.  For them, angst will only ever mean what Kierkegaard and Heidegger said it means.  Dread without an object, now that's angst.

Needless to say, there are some standouts so far.

A typically torpid and characteristically riveting piece by Wendell Berry that'll make you sad in the end.

A short but wonderful little reflection by John Barth, which opens thus:
When the eminent Italian critic and novelist Umberto Eco visited Johns Hopkins some decades ago, he spoke of the problem, for contemporary writers, of the "already said": the circumstance that because Homer, for example, spoke so memorably in The Odyssey of the "wine-dark sea" and of "rosy-fingered Dawn," nearly 3,000 years' worth of poets and storytellers have had to find other images for sea and sunrise—a task that must become increasingly difficult as the repertory of possibilities is exhausted.
This latter concept, surprisingly enough, reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a friend concerning the latest release from hip hop impresarios Jay-Z and Kanye West.  I was quoting one of my favorite couplets from the song ("They ain't see me cause I pulled up in my other Benz / Last week I was in my other other Benz..."), which you really need to hear out of Kanye's mouth if you want to get the full effect.

My interlocutor (take that, Atlantic!) may as well have been channeling Eco.  He observed how remarkable it is that, after thirty-odd years, creative people around the world haven't run out of ways to rhyme about Benzes.  Technically, he said "Benzes and ho's" but I want to make it clear that neither he nor I would countenance such misogynistic terminology outside the scope of a conversation about hip-hop.  Clear?  Good.