Monday, May 23, 2016

Criticism...

I just read Anthony Lane's 5/16/16 review of "Captain America: Civil War" and "The Lobster" in The New Yorker. And, to semi-quote Peter Finch in Network, I really just can't take it anymore!

Clearly, Mr Lane has not gotten the excellent advice a friend gave me in college when I asked him (a little desperately): "What do you say when a friend asks you to read something they wrote and tell them what you think? What if you didn't like it?  Do you risk the truth? Or lie for the sake of the friendship?"

I'm not comfortable with a polite lie; it seems to denigrate the friendship.  Yet very few really want to hear the unvarnished truth about something they have created, labored over and are taking the risk of sharing with you.

What do you say?

The advice, which I have internalized in assessing all creative work was: "Liking or not liking is not at issue. When you read something, think about what the creator was trying to accomplish.  Did they achieve their goal?"

This opened a door to looking at any material and considering it in its own right.  Not against my personal opinion, but against itself, and if I have the background, in its context.

I would always laugh (quietly) when people would comment on series romances and say: "Well, it's hardly literature!"  And I would think Why are you making this absurd comparison? Neither is The New York Times, but you probably read it every day.  Assess something in its own right, or against its peers, in its own context.

Of course everyone is entitled to their personal taste: I like this, I don't like that.  I don't even have to have a reason.  But that doesn't require any critical faculties or judgment, really.  It's just your feeling, your opinion, requiring little beyond your capacity to express yourself.

True criticism, in my opinion, is to put aside your personal tastes, your possibly narrow and judgmental vision of what is 'proper' or 'acceptable' or 'intellectually validated' and open your mind and heart to what the work itself is trying to achieve, how it relates to the history of material trying to achieve similar goals, and how it may succeed, fail, or break new ground.

Mr Lane seems deeply respectful of the surreal, science fiction and absurdist vision of "The Lobster," but childishly, rudely dismissive and disrespectful of an comic-book based action adventure film (which, full disclosure, I very much enjoyed).  It clearly wasn't deemed worthy of being assessed on its own merits, in the context of comic book action-adventure films, because Mr Lane's universe only validates things that are...?

Good question, and I can only speculate.  His universe would contain things that are perceived to be intellectual.  Certainly they must be difficultpopularity and success are likely, by definition, unacceptable.  In that world, it would be unimaginable to like someone lots of other people like, for that would weaken their self-vision of being extra-special.

But in fairness, I appreciate the desire of many reviewers and critics to support difficult and unpopular work, to take up the challenge to bring worthy material to the public eye.  But then don't review popular stuff.  And certainly don't dump on it in such a shallow and disrespectful way.

I realize that many critics and their readers delight in creating a polarized world of Good and Bad, but it lacks humanity, offers little insight, and seems...well, small.

3 comments:

Anne Marie said...

Your last paragraph absolutely nails it, and yes, I completely agree. It is fruitless to compare wildly different types of literature (apples vs. oranges, HA!) and makes the critic who eviscerates something based it does not fit a narrow criteria in his/her mind appear small-minded. Fwiw, I also believe most of these types of critics believe their words are polished pearls falling upon the ears of those of us less-cultured. Hence, they will never understand your point.

Isabel Swift said...

Anne Marie, thank you! And I must note I certainly don't think of us as "less-cultured" in the least, but frequently MORE cultured. I think of a 'cultured' person as one who is open-minded, has been exposed or has exposed themselves to many different cultures, with a range of knowledge and experience to draw on, is gracious, respectful and curious. And indeed, close-minded people will never understand your point, as it diminishes them too much.

Anne Marie said...

I should have placed quotes around "less-cultured." LOL