Jacques Barzun is 105 years old. When he was much younger, in his 70s or so, he wrote the line that gives this site its title. A novice Arthur Krystal was editing a collection of Barzun’s essays and suggested some stylistic changes to highlight the importance of some point or other. In a dismissive reply, Barzun wrote

“You are a sky-high highbrow. Me, I suspect highbrows (and low- and middle-) as I do all specialists, suspect them of making things too easy for themselves; and like women with a good figure who can afford to go braless, I go about brow-less.”

When I read this in Krystal’s 2007 New Yorker profile of Barzun, my heart swelled a little. It swelled more when I read further. Writing on Hector Berlioz, Barzun insisted that

“The greatest artists have never been men of taste. By never sophisticating their instincts they have never lost the awareness of the great simplicities, which they relish both from appetite and from the challenge these offer to skill in competition with popular art.”

Here my eyes literally watered. I felt, if I can be ridiculous for a moment, like I had met a kindred spirit. I won’t try to explain why, because there are limits to how ridiculous I want to sound. I’ll just say that I love, with rich and deep heart-stirrings, the following things: George Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, the music of Michael Jackson, dubstep, the short stories of O. Henry, Survivor, Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Survivorman (and emphatically not Man vs. Wild), Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy, Korean comedies, Dostoevsky, Firefly, Borges, Shusako Endo’s novel Silence, and Law & Order. I like to read about survival knife design and cognitive science (distributed cognition, imitation, biases); I love to look at what I think is great design in architecture and interiors and print.

I’m not a person of taste. I’m not a high-brow, though I did make a good effort to become one. I find that I like to learn stuff, but that it’s not necessarily the right stuff, or enough stuff in any one subject to really attain real erudition. And I like to consume art of all kinds, but I’m often left cold by what is supposed to be great, and made hot by things that aren’t cultured or well-regarded. I lack rudimentary knowledge of architecture and music and literature. I have never read James Joyce, and I grow impatient with books that don’t dwell at the level of deep human feelings fairly obviously.

So it is my aspiration to follow, in a limited way, the path signaled by Barzun. Barzun, who at 84 wrote a magisterial survey of Western culture since 1500, but who as a young professor also accepted a commission from the US Navy to write an Introduction to Naval History: An Outline with Diagrams and Glossary. Who is almost as famous (in various circles) for his thoughts about baseball in America and his reference guide to detective fiction as for his more academic work, which itself stretched across the fields of music, art, poetry, aesthetics, rhetoric, writing, culture generally, science, medicine,  and psychiatry. I want to resist, following my inclinations and emboldened by his urging and example, the forces of specialism—on the idea that it can strip the full richness from human experience and understanding. I want to be a dilettante and amateur in the original senses: a lover and seeker of delight, and I’m doing some of that here.