Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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When I got home yesterday our mailbox contained a special treat amid the endless offers for new loans: issue #19 of h2so4.

I've been reading this delightful publication since the mid-1990s, when its editor Jill Stauffer started graduate school at Berkeley. Unapologetically smart, h2so4 still manages to avoid sounding pretentious, even when its contributors are dropping the names of dead European thinkers. "Won't you join us? We're drowning in obscurity, but the water's lovely," is h2so4's tagline. It's an accessible obscurity, though, more shallow tropical inlet than open water.

Among the magazine's best features are the "Dear Philosopher" advice column and a reviews section in which anything and everything goes and goes well together. I've learned a lot about writing from h2so4 reviews, not least the importance of being confident in the exercise of my distressingly large interpretive powers. There are plenty of good reviews this time. One of my favorite is Amy König's take on the Wannamaker/Lord and Taylor holiday light show, with excursi on the decline of both department stores and mall culture. The last paragraph does a wonderful job of distilling the take-home point of Walter Benjamin's massive Arcades Project -- Passagenwerk in German -- into a single elegant sentence:

Perhaps, when capitalism's previously dominant forms decline, we can begin to see and mourn the kind of wishes they purported to fulfill.
I love the idea that we're mourning, not what did happen, but what we wished would happen.

Listening to Walter Cronkite talking on NPR about the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, then watching the coverage in 2004, I realized how rapidly our Cold War television networks are approaching this sort of nostalgia-inducing obsolescence. I was suddenly aware how much I missed the stability and simplicity of a world in which Elvis Presley only needed three televisons to outfit his Graceland media center. But that sense of loss is only possible because so many wishes from back then went unfulfilled. At any rate, as that brief flight of fancy indicates, reviews in h2so4 have a wonderful capacity to inspired hard thinking without anxiety about whether that thinking is right or wrong.

Charlie Bob says, "Check it out."

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