The week’s best arts and culture reads – including how an odd looking man conquered Hollywood, the end of the detective film and the work of an obituary writer.

How a funny-looking man conquered Hollywood
Sophie Gilbert | Atlantic | 12 June 2014
Benedict Cumberbatch may be the biggest star in the world just now. Which is a good thing: It means that “our culture is maturing, and no longer considers classical good looks to be paramount. Immanuel Kant drew distinctions between things that are evidently beautiful because we can see they’re beautiful, and things that are sublime because they demand an intellectual response. The sublime is finally triumphant.”   

The art of the epigraph
Jonathan Russell Clark | The Millions | 11 June 2014
“Epigraphs are more than mere pontification. Writers don’t use them to boast. They are like the first lesson in a long class. Writers must teach a reader how to read their book. They must instruct the tone, the pace, the ostensible project of a given work. An epigraph is an opportunity to situate a novel, a story, or an essay, and, more importantly, to orient the reader to the book’s intentions.”           

India after English
Samanth Subramanian | New York Review Of Books | 9 June 2014
English is ceasing to be the language of power in India. The new prime minister, Narendra Modi, is more at ease in Hindi and Gujarati. Literacy rates are rising fast; but it is Bengali, Hindi and Marathi newspapers which are prospering, while English ones stagnate. “The new middle class is increasingly found in smaller towns, and prefers to read in its own regional language, rather than English.”       

Who killed Shamus?
Peter Gerstenzang | New Republic | 9 June 2014
It’s forty years since Chinatown. What killed the classic Hollywood detective movie? Perhaps China: “Detective movies are talky. And often a studio won’t greenlight a film unless it can play in China, which means too much talk is out.” Perhaps Google: “With the Internet everybody thinks of themselves as a detective. Now that everyone can go online and dig up stuff, they’re not as interested in watching other people do it.”         

Steven Pinker: Writing in the 21st Century
Steven Pinker | Edge | 8 June 2014
What psychology and linguistics can teach us about writing well. “When you write, you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that’s interesting, that you are directing the attention of your reader to that thing, and that you are doing so by means of conversation. That may sound obvious. But it’s amazing how many of the bad habits of academese and legalese come from flouting that model.”

How long can the art market boom last?
Georgina Adam | Financial Times | 6 June 2014
The current boom (or bubble) in fine art is comparatively recent – the surge began in 2004. The market is narrow: “Top collectors are only interested in the work of 50 to 100 artists, overwhelmingly modern and contemporary”. Closest historical precedent is probably “the golden age of the living painter”, 1860-1914, which was propelled by new fortunes from industry and commerce and ended with World War I.  

Obituaries for The Economist
Isabelle Fraser | Hairpin | 6 June 2014
Conversation with Ann Wroe, obituary editor at The Economist. The subject – one per week – is decided on Monday, and the piece is due by the end of Tuesday. “I just sort of feed it all in. Make a huge great collage in my mind. The hardest one was Ingmar Bergman. I had to spend the whole night watching the movies, and by the end I was suicidal … I absolutely dread it when the writers die. There’s such a lot to read!”

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