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Errol Morris: The Thinking Man's Detective

(Original story by Ron Rosenbaum at the Smithsonian Magazine...)

"Born in suburban Long Island, Morris graduated from the University of Wisconsin. After a stint of cello study in France, he talked his way into the Princeton graduate philosophy seminar of Thomas Kuhn, an icon of postmodernism, the man who coined the term “paradigm shift.” It wasn’t exactly a meeting of the minds. In fact, it almost cracked Morris’ skull, which is what Kuhn seemed to be aiming to do at the climax of an argument when the esteemed philosopher threw an ashtray at Morris’ head.

“The Ashtray,” Morris’ five-part, 20,000-word account of that episode and their philosophical clash over the nature of truth, is a good introduction to the unique kind of writing he’s doing now. (Don’t miss the section on the obscure Greek philosopher of irrationalism, Hippasus of Metapontum, a digression worthy of Jorge Luis Borges.)

After the ashtray incident, Morris eventually did two stints as a private eye. If there is one subtext to all of Morris’ subsequent films and writings, it is the private eye’s creed, the anti-postmodernist belief that “the truth is out there.” Truth may be elusive, it may even be unknowable, but that doesn’t mean, as postmodernists aver, that reality is just a matter of subjective perspectives, that one way of seeing things is just as good as another..."


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