Monday, May 21, 2007

The critic as public intellectual

Hoo baby. This one's amazing.
Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmaker's or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities.

Opinion — thumbs up, thumbs down — is the least important aspect of reviewing. Very often, in the best reviews, opinion is conveyed without a judgmental word being spoken, because the review's highest business is to initiate intelligent dialogue about the work in question, beginning a discussion that, in some cases, will persist down the years, even down the centuries.
Schickel's idea that the critic should be a public intellectual as well is fine, but all he's done with his ill-informed anti-blog tirade(s) is make the gap between them wider. Or try to, anyway; these kinds of spats really don't do anyone any favors. Old school versus new school, it's the same argument every time: You young whippersnappers, you don't know what you're talking about because you don't have a string of letters after your name.

There's been a big stink in the blogosphere lately (see here) over this very topic: the validity of online-based writing versus print-based. But if you think about it, it all amounts to what Nirvana once called "territorial pissings." Next topic, please.

1 comment:

Simon Crowe said...

Jason -

I think you and I agree on this. Here's my take on the issue....

Vote in the presidential poll after you check this out, will you? I'm disheartened turnout is so low....