Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why the TLS?

Why the Times Literary Supplement?

I "discovered" the TLS following a friend's recommendation, at a time when I did not have any specific literary/ cultural magazines that I would regularly read; the closest to something that fit my expectations was Der Zeit's literary supplement - Zeit Literatur. Right now, the TLS is the only such magazine to which I subscribe: why?

Its texts are not characterized by ideological deformations, which is a problem ubicuitous among American magazines, making them virtually unreadable. Instead, its texts cover culture - or Culture. "They," or "the texts," because the authors vary with each issue, and there is thus no overburdening, overwhelming "it" of a program or message, blaring from inside the magazine's covers. Compare this with the line struck by the very ideological and most programmatic (and thus, useless, for my interests and purposes) New York Review of Books.

"Culture," because reading it is an act in intellectual enrichment: it is like visiting a library (or giant modern bookstore), perambulating through its sections, indulging in a bit of philosophy, a bit of geography - and how about the history of pearls? Delightful. If your interests and needs are Renaissance-like (and why do we use the word Renaissance to express this most natural curiosity of a thinking human being? perhaps because our times make human beings narrower than that, narrowing them down in the race for subsistence, or success) - if you have that curiosity, then this will fit your tastes.

The language it employs is another delight. The overwhelming majority of its authors write in a beautiful, literary English. From a purely literary perspective, therefore, reading it will be very pleasant. Its literary qualities set it apart from the lack of qualities of the simplified, bare-bones language used in most North-American magazines. I think that for the latter we can speak of a case of contamination with the academic style; most American academics have perfected a simple, clear, direct mode of expression - the research paper style. Mind you, I do think that this simple and clear style is a great gain, especially when employed in the social or exact sciences; in fact, I am quite convinced that the American sphere has produced the best political science and history books, and also the best investigative journalism (when it is at its best). These are genres which greatly profit, and can only profit, from such a style. Just read Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson trilogy - I have still to encounter a more remarkable work of political science (and history, and journalism). But most of the writing in the transatlantic magazines of culture & current events is simply drab and boring. Reading the TLS is, more often than not, a dessert on the daily table.

These are three reasons; I am sure you can find more.

PS: I warmly suggest getting and reading the print version; you would enjoy walking through a library or a bookstore more than browsing through Amazon's titles and its cover snapshots. But you can also find the link to TLS's website on the top-left of this page.

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