Archive for the ‘criticism’ tag
Malcolm Gladwell seems to have ever more detractors, but his success and appeal is undeniable. I appreciated John Gray’s explanation of that appeal, most strongly manifest in his latest book:
Pretending to present daringly counterintuitive views to his readers, he actually strengthens the hold on them of a view of things that they have long taken for granted. This is, perhaps, the essence of the genre that Gladwell has pioneered: while reinforcing beliefs that everyone avows, he evokes in the reader a satisfying sensation of intellectual non-conformity.
(via The Browser)
Good criticism expands on and explains clearly the work it critiques. It brings a deeper understanding of the subject by virtue of contextualizing it in a world a a consumer of the work under review probably rarely notices, and may not even fully comprehend.
I’d say by that definition James Bowman’s essay on the recently concluded television series Breaking Bad is quite good criticism. I watched the show from start to finish, even when I found it’s painful plot points made me want to stop. And while at the end, I felt satisfied, I didn’t fully comprehend. Bowman’s contextualization is hugely useful in this regard:
All of us are uneasily aware that beneath the good civilizational order in which most readers of these pages and viewers of the show continue to live their lives there is a dark alternative where old rules dominate, the Enlightenment’s recurring bad dream just waiting for the opportunity to reassert itself. Ironically, it is Walt’s Enlightenment credentials as a man of science that are his entrance ticket to this new state of nature.
(via Ross Douthat)
I’ve posted a piece (only one!?) by Slavoj Žižek, and have enjoyed a few more. So when out of the giant reading backlog came a really neat piece about what makes his writing so interesting to read, I had to share. A choice quote:
The biggest obstacle facing the reader of Žižek’s work is not the academic trappings — the technical terms, the references to other thinkers — but a writing style that defies convention. Broadly speaking, the general expectation of argumentative writing is that it will lay out a more or less straightforward chain of reasons supporting a clear central claim. Even though we acknowledge that this format is almost never encountered in its pure form, it still remains a kind of ideal. In Žižek’s writing, though, it’s difficult to pick out anything like a “thesis statement,” and the argument most often proceeds via intuitive leaps rather than tight chains of reasoning.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this essay, but this bit most resonated with me:
I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
UPDATE (04/05/13): Just came across the magnificent Onion treatment.
Another in the large pile of “most things about wine are bullshit” stories. This author did a statistical analysis:
Using descriptions of 3,000 bottles, ranging from $5 to $200 in price from an online aggregator of reviews, I first derived a weight for every word, based on the frequency with which it appeared on cheap versus expensive bottles. I then looked at the combination of words used for each bottle, and calculated the probability that the wine would fall into a given price range. The result was, essentially, a Bayesian classifier for wine.
(via more of what i like)
In an excerpt from his book, Mike Steinberger lays some of the blame for the decline of French cuisine at the door of what is usually considered its ultimate judge.
There’s a good chance you’ve seen this charming documentation of the ways in which a painter’s child corrects him, but I want to save it for posterity.
Without question the critical consensus is that with The Sopranos and The Wire off the air, Mad Men is the best thing around. I’ve always had mixed feelings about it myself, but I’m glad simply to read someone (at length) discuss the show without slavishly showing their good tastes by being a fan. Perhaps the best bit:
Whether one finds all of this claustrophobic and ludicrous or tightly wound and compelling depends very heavily on one’s opinion of Don Draper. Draper, as written, is a kind of social savant. He knows how to act in every emergency. He deploys strategic fits of temper to attain his ends. He’s catnip to women. As played by Jon Hamm, though, his manner hardly matches his activities. … Draper is supposed to have a deep secret, but it would make sense only if that secret were his weakness – fearfulness or femininity – instead of the show’s anticlimactic revelation that his mother was a whore and he picked up another man’s identity on the battlefield in Korea: bizarre Gothicisms that belong to some other series. One never sees hunger or anger in Hamm’s eyes, only the misery of the hunted fox. Either he is playing the hero as a schlub in deference to a 21st-century idea of masculinity as fundamentally hollow and sham, or he’s completely underequipped to convey male menace.
Two octogenerians talking about movies? It’s like a longer, more crumudgeonly Siskel and Ebert (or whoever the pair is now). I’m unexpectedly delighted by this.
(via Austin Kleon)
That’s what Rachel Dandielo argued is last weekend’s New York Times Book Review:
The year saw the advent of everything from Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and Dr. Seuss’ “Yertle the Turtle” to “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak, that year’s Nobel laureate in literature; the first American edition of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”; Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; John Kenneth Galbraith’s “Affluent Society”; Philip Roth’s story “Goodbye, Columbus”; and Jack Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums” — not to mention Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape,” Harold Pinter’s “Birthday Party,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and Orson Welles’s “Touch of Evil.” Robert Frank captured the uncertain tenor of the time in his 1958 photography book, “The Americans,” as did Jasper Johns in his 1958 painting “Three Flags,” in which he superimposed three American flags, each smaller than the next, transforming the familiar into the abstract, the iconic into the unsettled.
Tim Goodman, a confessed snob, stoops to reconsider CBS’s plebeian Monday night comedy lineup and finds it rather enjoyable. His consideration of snobbery:
The problem with sophisticated comedy — be it anti-obvious in nature, keenly observed absurdities or ironically dumb by choice — is that it creates its own little laugh ghetto from which you never get out. You don’t want to watch “Two and a Half Men” because, well, it’s “Two and a Half Men” with Charlie Sheen, for God’s sake. What more need be said?
And yet, there’s a smugness - almost a righteousness - to people who can only tolerate “30 Rock” or “Weeds” and sit around lamenting the death of “Arrested Development.” Hey, it takes one to know one.
It’s true that CBS is awash in laugh tracks and anyone unfortunate enough to end up in hell will find pretty much the same sound there. And that tired sitcom pacing - setup, punch line, setup punch line, big bang before the commercial break - is enough to make you really do damage to a free-standing TV set. But it’s also true that funny is funny. It answers to no specific genre or network. From Milton Berle to “Flight of the Conchords,” if you laugh, then it’s funny. It worked.
(via TV Squad)
New York Times film critic A. O. Scott offers a nice goodbye to Roger Ebert as a television personality.
It seems to me that “Sneak Previews” and its descendants, far from advancing the vulgarization of film criticism, extended its reach and strengthened its essentially democratic character. That is not to say that chatting about a movie in front of a camera (actually three cameras), and bouncing from a scripted mini-review to improvised cross-talk, can ever achieve the depth or nuance of a polished piece of writing. (Roger has often admitted as much. When I was at his house, he scribbled a bit of wisdom on the small spiral notebook that is his main conversational vehicle these days: the gist was that when writing, you should avoid cliché, but on television you should embrace it.)
Speaking of criticism… John Freeman had some useful insight into why one might — and might not — want to read criticism at all.
In a way, pre-judgement is a necessary evil of criticism: there are far more books published than anyone could possibly read, busloads of awarded writers who aren’t actually worth reading. There’s no way to approach this forest gingerly. You need a buzz saw to clear some breathing room, gain a sightline, and criticism has to have enough teeth and ubiquitous availability to be that instrument.
(via Andrew Sullivan)
Andy Baio has some good words on the topic of the FAIL meme (typified by The FAIL Blog).
A few years ago, I wrote an entry about knee-jerk contrarians on the Internet: those delightful people who find fault in anything and everything, dismissing months or years of work with a few words.
This is nothing new. It’s as old as communication itself. I’m sure that the moment man discovered fire, there was some guy nearby saying, “Too smoky. Can burn you. Lame.”
(via Daring Fireball)
I’m surprised by how good and readable Gregory Rodriguez’s column about Stuff White People Like is. A taste:
One irony-deficient reader complained that the blog was less about white people than it was about yuppies. And without knowing it, she was cutting to the heart of the joke. Lander is gently making fun of the many progressive, educated, upper-middle-class whites who think they are beyond ethnicity or collectively shared tastes, styles or outlook. He’s essentially reminding them that they too are part of a group.
In Vanity Fair, James Walcott has an decisive — which is not to say accurate — analysis of the myriad books about George W. Bush. Reading them primarily as insights into the author’s view of the man, Walcott makes absolutely clear he’s no fan of the president and his leadership methods. He goes all the way to make the unsubstantiated-but-interesting claim that Bush meant to create chaos and to appear out-of-touch and foolish.
But are we deceiving ourselves by projecting our values onto a blank screen? So much of the burgeoning Bush literature, both nonfiction and fiction, is built on the premise that the Bush-Cheney autarchy is a disastrous failure that can be diagnosed as a hulking case of hubris coupled with a righteous dose of blowback. … But perhaps we’re the ones living in Bizarro World, not the Bushies. Maybe from their vantage point inside the mother ship nearly everything’s worked out as intended, if not exactly as planned, and those in the highest circles have no more reason to examine their consciences or re-trace their steps than the perpetrators of a successful heist. For years, a few voices on the radical edges of the blogosphere have contended that sowing chaos in the Middle East, privatizing war to enrich their corporate sponsors, and letting things slide to hell at home were what the lords of misrule wanted—that the bungling and incompetence of the war and Katrina weren’t bugs, but features. After all, the post-Katrina diaspora has redounded to the benefit of the Republicans with the election of Bobby Jindal to the Louisiana governorship, his victory made possible in part by the dispersement of black voters displaced by the floods.