Daniel W. Drezner

Arts & Ideas, R.I.P. (1997-2004)

Arts & Ideas, R.I.P. (1997-2004)

The New York Observer‘s Rachel Donadio reports that in September, the New York Times will be eliminating its Saturday Arts & Ideas section from the paper. To which I can only say, Amen. I’ve never forgiven that section of the paper from running an article back in the summer of 2001 claiming that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire was “the next big idea” in international relations theory. Based on that article, I purchased the hardcover edition of the book and wasted several hours of my life wrestling with their turgid prose and nonfalsifiable nostrums (Alan Wolfe efficiently dissected the “meandering, wordy, and incoherent book” in this The New Republic review from late 2001). According to Donadio, it appears I was far from the only one to dislike this section of the Saturday paper of record:

Since its launch in 1997, the section has become a favorite punching bag for intellectual journalists of all stripes, with Mr. [Lee] Siegel shouting where others have only dared to whisper. (In a New Republic article in 1998, he famously called Arts & Ideas “a weekly banana peel dropped in the path of human intelligence.”) “The problem with the section was the nature of the section,” Mr. Siegel said. “You just can’t isolate ‘ideas’ from the rest of culture, of life.”…. Its on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand approach makes for toothless coverage of ideas that already don’t necessarily lend themselves to newspaper word-lengths or style. As one intellectual journalist and Times-watcher summed up the problem: “They don’t use semi-colons.” “I never felt it had a very strong identity,” Jay Rosen, a press critic and professor at the New York University School of Journalism, said of the section.

The Observer also quotes from Siegel’s hysterical parody of the section:

“Professor A thinks that all urban Americans more than 20 pounds overweight should be exterminated in order to increase leg room on buses and subways. Professor B thinks this violated the civil rights of overweight people. Of course, this is an old argument, one that goes back to the first century, when the Romans would routinely shorten their slaves in order to have a clearer view of the street during rush hours. Professor C thinks that this argument will continue ‘for as long as people share the public space with other people.’”