The portrait was once a primary tool for the shaping of public perception. You can argue with me about the competing roles of banquets, weddings, coronations, and edicts but the point is that a picture, an artwork, has a historical sticking power. Images, like the distinctive visage of Henry VIII (wide, smug, magnificent), echo across time. But fashions change and the inception of the photograph has somewhat depreciated the value of a painting. It is more and more common to see the autobiographies of politicians and celebrities published, almost as a formality of fame.
Writing a blog post about a YouTube video should strike you as an odd choice. Isn’t this what callout or ‘response’ videos are for? I’ve even chosen an appropriately clickbait-y title! Look! I’ve hooked you, at least. But making a YouTube video and a whole YouTube channel about philosophy should strike you as even more strange. Isn’t philosophy too self-serious and academic to set foot on YouTube? Isn’t it dirtying itself by kicking around down here with the philistines? Oliver Thorn, the actor responsible for Philosophy Tube, would undoubtably say no. Thorn has been at this for 7 years. He’s been making YouTube videos through several vast changes in the culture of the internet. He has gone from hanging out in front of a bookcase chatting about Descartes to riding horseback while discussing the British monarchy and performing Platonic dialogues dealing with the politics of climate change. Costumes, makeup, and lavish sets all lend Thorn’s work polish and a district charm. Somehow, he takes the thought he engages with very seriously, but with a dash of good-humor. Though so much has changed, it’s clear the one thing has stayed the same. Thorn still believes in the value of philosophy to everyone. He would not have invested so much time and energy into this project if he did not.
The problem of the personal essay is bridging the massive gap between me and you. Many personal essays, especially those written by queer people whose experiences are so varied and idiosyncratic, tend to share an almost unmediated picture of experience. I sometimes express dissatisfaction when an essay glances off me and leaves no lasting trace. I don’t get it. Then I’m reminded that that’s sort of the point. You read the piece, and if you share the experience, you empathize. If not, too bad. It was not for you anyway. But a melancholy taste is left in my mouth.
I have seen so many reviews of books which try to convince you to pick it up and read using a string of adjectives. This novel is inspiring, confident, delightful. The prose (it is always prose) is handsome, remarkable, elegant. The dialogue is crisp, witty, fit for the screen. I am always left unconvinced by this language. I want to read good books, books that could be called delightful or elegant or what have you. But what I really value in writing is its ability to engage me deeply.