But Who Am I To Be Critical?

Ben Yagoda: The reviewer’s fallacy: when critics aren’t critical enough.

... critics fall prey to a sort of hermeneutic Stockholm syndrome. They experience so much bad work that they get inured to it. They are so thankful for originality, or for a creator’s having good or arguably interesting intentions, or for technical proficiency, or for a something that’s crap but not crap in quite the usual way, that they give these things undue credit.

... When a reviewer goes on about a brilliant performance, or cleverly transgressive lyrics, I think of Paul Reiser’s bit about a friend who shows him a picture of his extraordinarily ugly baby. Reiser finds there is nothing he can say except, “Nice wallet!”

I've encountered this at work in my own reactions to things, and only recently began to police myself against them. A good critic can make a sensible argument for what it is about something that works, in their purview, but in the end you have to part with them and find out for yourself what the deal is. And when you look at something, you have to be willing to not pretend that it needs to be great in order to justify anything.

Good criticism is not just iconoclasty, though. That by itself isn't anything but contrarianism, and too easily used as a clandestine way of saying something's not to one's taste. I am no fan of David Foster Wallace's work, not because I don't think he has anything to say, but because the way he chooses to say it just rubs me entirely the wrong way and doesn't make me want to read it. For that reason I tend to bite my tongue when it comes to him, because it's hard for me to disentangle my personal aesthetics from my analytics. If I can't say something smart about the man, I might as well not say anything at all.

Back on the main subject, though. I think this business of being overly grateful for anything even marginally better than crap is more readily policed when you don't have an obligation to weigh in on everything that comes down the pike. If you can choose what you want to talk about, you tend to pick the things that naturally stimulate a response from you, whether good or bad, and you're not put in the miserable position of having to twist your own arm to say anything at all.

It was like that in one previous job I held, where I ended up with more stuff than I could ever review honestly, and so I had to force myself to be selective. It was the only way to not drown. Being practical about how to triage the flood of submissions forced me to also be that much more thoughtful, to know that I didn't have to chip in on every last wretched little thing that thumped on my doorstep or made someone else's headlines.

Tags: criticism  critics 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2018/02/01 08:00.

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