Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 18, No. 1, 2019
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Lynda Renée
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





Donald Dewey has published some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction. His most recent are the series of memoir-essays Mosquitoes and Tortoises: Flights and Crawls on the Fringes of the Media and the thriller novel Red Herrings.

Theater goers look forward to Opening Night, baseball fans to Opening Day, and lexicographers to Revised Editions of dictionaries. Just as there are hopes that a new playwright has dramatized existential woes in a freshly creative way or that a new pitcher will lead the locals to the World Series, there is febrile anticipation over new words listed in alphabetical order. Their origins are ubiquitous: foreign idioms, media slang, erroneously heard corruptions. The important thing is to keep on adding because nothing demonstrates the life of a democracy -- linguistic and every other kind -- more than volume.

Or not.

One trouble with this ideology of the cumulative -- linguistic and every other way -- is that it abets the long-since meaningless. Discrimination ducks behind historical usage. Words that ought to have been retired as barren cling to every recital of Fourth of July and Miss America speeches. Every Revised Edition demands more space for the prattle entry. Language democracy is not synonymous with its relevance.

We deny it, of course. We boast of our adoptive powers. The twentieth-century meaning of gay didn’t exile horse-and-carriage meanings, did it? And how about rap and web and coke? No crises there. We can handle the simple additions. Overpopulation is India’s problem, not ours.

The saving grace of self-delusions is that they are self-deluding, trauma not required. We are free to overlook the contradictory, the awkward, and most of all the empty. Just natter any word that has been codified in one of those big books and Internet screens. Many of us first had that experience when we were asked to render an opinion on a painting, a novel, or a murder in the apartment upstairs. Gathering our wits, we allowed as how it was interesting. Subsequently, we encountered so many phenomena equally interesting that this quality seemed rivaled only by oxygen as an essential planetary substance. To be interesting something merely had to be there; we didn’t need to hazard a judgment on it, didn’t dare expose a lack of perceptiveness, wondered why the hell it had to exist to begin with. Interesting was Everyword, above partisanship, beyond commitment, dismissive of thought itself. Most important, it was incredibly inclusive because when you got down to it, how many experiences, objects, or cracks in the ceiling plaster were uninteresting?

Being so promiscuous, interesting hardly shocks by having spawn. In art circles, vivid grew relentlessly from childhood to dotage. Not merely an alternative for orange, vivid is useful for any work that attracts the eye and doesn’t immediately disintegrate from the attention. The same might be said of books, movies and steak knives that are penetrating. Implicit in its usage is that some cavernous ignorance has been violated, particularly around the assumption that the obvious may be obvious. Much of what is characterized as penetrating also risks being provocative, though rarely with specifics if this means the hatching of a revolutionary, the gathering of a lynch mob, or the firing of an especially gross fart. A provocative entity that is equally vivid and penetrating would represent he Holy Grail of the interesting.

Not that the lexically vacuous are confined to the aesthetic. Social and political vocabularies have bequeathed a pride of place to the meaningless. The practiced core of this hollow is controversial. Things get controversial when every Chinese except a couple of farmers near the Mongolian frontier vote for something; i.e., somebody, anybody who doesn’t subscribe to what has to be absolute to avoid . . . yes, controversy. If the tail-eating ouroboros didn’t exist, controversial would have created it.

A word more recently drafted for the task of communicating nothing is orthodox and its family. The New York Times, for example, has developed a crush on describing the Trump Administration’s mode of governing (sic) as unorthodox. The paper doesn’t mean some opposition to one of the sects in various religions that favour thick beards, but appears to prefer that word to what, depending on the context, would more appropriately be felonious, mindless, or just squalid.

The ritual defense for such choices in the mass media is the need to be objective. No word in the dictionary is less objective than objective in that it occupies a definition space all by itself while its nature demands it be accompanied by an adversarial suggestion allowing it to state its case for legitimate existence. But such has not been the reality since the days when Newsweek, when it was still being thought of as venerable, argued a position for one side, then for the other, then happily brought in a hot dog vendor or sampan driver to point out why both sides lacked complete wisdom.

Then there is objective’s nemesis -- factual. Oddly enough, that entry seems to get shorter with every Revised Edition.


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Also by Donald Dewey:
Knowing the Killer
Racism to the Rescue
Punk Times
Not Playing It Safe
Meeting the Author
The Overwriting Syndrome
Writers As Ideas
Let Them Entertain Us
It's a Kindergarten Life
Being and Disconnectedness
History of Humour in the Cinema
Cartoon Power


Paul Finley Mysteries Book Two
A newly arrived Bolivian seaman is found murdered in a Manhattan roach hotel. An address book on the body lists three American contacts, one of whom is private investigator Paul Finley. The trouble is, Finley has never heard of the man or, for that matter, of anybody in Bolivia. Another trouble is that the other two people in the address book are dispatched in quick order and Finley finds himself enmeshed in an assassination plot against a Bolivian diplomat.

Trade Paperback - 6 x 9 x .7
164 Pages
FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Private Investigators











Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


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