The items here probably the represent the 'light' or fluffy side of my authorship, which might be unfortunate, because the light side is also a rather dark side. They range from a personal essay on addiction to a satire on race to an amazing "solution" to the question of the meaning of life itself or, thinking about it from another angle, to the question of the meaning itself of life, or perhaps to the question itself of life's meaning.
The centrality of the arts for understanding history and contemporary culture, and our coming rapture/damnation by comedy in the Cynical ecstasy at the end of history: these are related underlying themes of many of these essays. Often I apply ideas and taxonomies from art history and aesthetics to various sorts of materials, for example to gender and sexual orientation, or to popular music forms, or to the structure of history, and then try to let the material re-map those areas of inquiry. I don't insist that any particular one of these essays constitutes philosophy or aesthetics or anything else; I've tried to follow from thing to thing, idea to idea, fiasco to calamity, rather than worry about where precisely I was in the disciplinary maze.
Some of these essays reflect engagement with stage and parlor magic and sleight of hand; a number discuss or obviously reflect obsession and addiction; a number display a lifelong love of popular music; a number reflect engagements with my favorite writers and questions about writing. All of these obviously have various autobiographical connections, and I suppose they are all attempts to determine what you can see from here, wherever 'here' is now: including, white heterosexual middle-aged person; aficionado or enthusiast; daddy, American, me, etc. I'm happy to let these connections emerge explicitly, or not.
As I've gone on writing, I have tried to get less showboaty and more obviously committed to subject-matters other than myself, though it might not seem that way. Nevertheless 'I' weaves in and out here, and I do think that even academic writing - which this may be or not - should be more personal, insofar as persons, with their passions and pathologies, still lurk behind it or create it in some way. The 'I' changes in different essays, but I am not going to be precious about it: by 'I' I mean me. I mean me perhaps at different moments or moods; certainly 'Detritus' was written at a nadir, and I'm doing better now, and would have something happier to say about myself. I am content even if uncomfortable leaving that essay as a trace of then. It's not, on the other hand, that I'm 'a different person' than I was in 2008. If only. But you know how we end up being transformed without meaning to be, under necessity, like ramshackle ships of Theseus.
Most of these texts were read in some form as lectures/multi-media extravaganzas; others were pitched to various sorts of publication with varying success. Thanks to Muhlenberg College, Slippery Rock University, Notre Dame, East Tennessee State, Southern Illinois, Concordia College, Cal State Chico, Oregon State, Gettysburg College, the Nordic Society for Aesthetics, Duquesne, the International Country Music Conference, and others who hosted me on occasions when this material was presented. Parts of pieces appeared in Harper's, the Los Angeles Times, The Rolling Stones and Philosophy, How Does it Feel to be a White Problem?, and Tricksters and Punks of Asia. Each paper has been at least somewhat revised, though they are still to be taken as representing the time they were composed. For example "How to Escape" was written before the killing of Osama bin Laden. In some cases, related blog entries from eyeofthestrom.blogs.com or related journalism by me from various sources have been annexed.
Near the end of his life, my father, Franklin Sartwell, gave me editions of Mencken's autobiography and Beirce's Devil's Dictionary with an air of passing on key bits of family lore. For him, as for his father - both newspapermen in DC - Mencken was the greatest of their own kind, or what they aspired to be: irascible, politically perverse, hilarious hard-drinking bastards who knew everything, especially about writing. Also Frank took to me to see the Seldom Scene, Thursdays at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland.
For better and disaster, the effects of Judith Bradford and Marion Winik on the thought and prose style of this book, and the experiences represented, are obvious, at least to me. I think Arthur Danto's influence is pervasive; oh, probably Richard Rorty's too. I read Heinrich Wölfflin's Principles of Art History in high school and am still battering my old Dover edition; amazing how something like that can infest your thinking. Throughout, art historical terms, such as stylistic terms or periods ('soul', for example, or 'classical') should be understood as sketched out in the lexicon, pp. .Thanks to Andrew Kenyon for collaboration on this volume. The city of Baltimore and the countryside of South Central Pennsylvania. The Maryland Institute College of Art and Dickinson College.
As usual, you should blame those people and institutions, rather than the author, for all the infelicities, fatuities, solecisms, barbarisms, contradictions, absurdities, and blunders you find here.