I Owe An Excuse

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-09-11 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

Some of the best, most probing questions come from people who don't know the territory at all, or know it only well enough to ignore its dogmas. I was once talking with an acquaintance about how the more you read a favorite book, the better you appreciate it, when he came out with a question along the lines of, "How can you tell if you're just making excuses for a work once you've read it more than once?" He was in part following up something I'd said earlier in the conversation, about how you can make excuses for any work if you like it, and I admitted he had a point. One he made in almost complete ignorance of how such things work, but a point all the same. I wasn't sure how to reply to him then, but I think I do now.

Most every appreciation of something begins with a sincere love for it, whatever it may be. I think the Hong Kong film I Love Maria is one of the dumbest things ever made, but I love every ridiculous moment of it. (Okay, maybe not every moment of it — the scene where one of the "heroes" shoots up a bar as revenge leaves a bad taste in my mouth — but the preponderence of moments.)

But I know that my love for it doesn't lead easily into an appreciation of it. At least not one I can construct without feeling like I'm bending over backwards. If I like something just because it's dumb and silly, or because it has some appeal to me that I can't explain, that's taste, and taste is necessarily private.

You don't have to construct appreciations of taste, or even defenses of them. But you do have to be conscious of them, and how they're fed, especially if you're a creator. I try not to let my love of something dippy like I Love Maria turn into a guideline for other things I want, or how I should create things.

The appreciations I have for things, as opposed to just having love for them, are about knowing that they tick in ways not like anything else, and for the better. I both love and appreciate 2001: A Space Odyssey, as my recent discussion of it would attest. I'm not sure I love David Lynch's Blue Velvet but I can appreciate it, even if that appreciation stops short of a defense of its excesses. And I neither love nor appreciate Infinite Jest.

If all this has a road, it winds like so: I begin with a work that I love for my own reasons, and then see over time how my love for it can lead into ways of regarding it that have nothing to do with my love for it. I owe the work at least that much as a sign of my love for it.

Tags: criticism critics