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A motto

January 17, 2010

Louis Menand, from the preface to his book American Studies:

It’s true things aren’t always what they seem, but what they seem is always part of what they are. … Appearance, mystique, aura, reputation: these are all aspects of the things that interest us, and they are as real as anything else. It is good not to be fooled, but there is a difference between being disenthralled and being disillusioned. Criticism that denies the subject its surface appeal is unsuccessful criticism, and if something doesn’t seem more interesting after it has been taken apart, then it wasn’t worth taking apart. The last word–though only the last word–should be one of appreciation.

There is a third, little-trod way between illusion and disillusion. It’s not some mixture of the two, but an alternative to both. Finding it is the task of the engaged intellectual.

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