Ruined Forever


I can't remember where I read this, but I once came across someone grousing about the way George Orwell had ruined for them the experience of reading Charles Dickens. Orwell's objection to Dickens was that the man was skilled at enumerating and dramatizing the ills of society, but didn't have any solutions. The reader thought this was a stupid objection: Of course Dickens didn't have any solutions! He was a novelist, not a sociologist! It was, in his eyes, a fundamentally dumb criticism, like going to a gas station and complaining because they don't do cataract surgery. But the reader was now also annoyed that one of his favorite authors had been ruined by this criticism.

What a strange word, ruined. But I get the feeling. Imagine being told that adorable little puppy you just adopted has rabies. Ruined! Oh, and that author you admired and read for decades? Wife-beater. Ruined! I do get it.

But I also have developed over time a sense of knowing how to look through all of that. Not by pretending the moral turpitudes of our artists do not matter, because art is beyond good and evil, or any of that malarkey. More that I've found it helps to think about art as an artifact, not a holy relic, and to think of artists as people whom I draw specific things on my own terms.

Orwell's criticism of Dickens wasn't that he was a bad writer — god knows there are plenty of such darts lobbed Dickens's way by others — but that he was a limited one, and that being conscious of the limits of what a writer perceives and reports back on lets us frame their works a little more correctly. If we love a piece of work, we tend to love it for something that it can only give us on our own entirely private terms; it's not something any amount of criticism can remove. If anything, I would think criticism would only cause us to resist losing such love all the more strongly.

I am forever confused by the idea that we should look to critical analyses of anything as a way to confirm what we already know about it, because at that point you have boosterism and not criticism. I thought the whole point of such work was to entertain a different view, and to see what from it could be used to enhance our own. Maybe some people feel the job of the critic is just to approve of the same things in a new way, which is half right at best.


Tags: Charles Dickens  George Orwell  Woody Allen  creators  criticism 


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2018/01/19 17:00.

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