Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deference today, contempt tomorrow

Another critic bites the dust: “Working as a critic is a curious, paradoxical thing to do. It begins with a deeply personal experience, as you bring your head and heart, your flawed knowledge and particular past into an engagement that's as full and immediate as possible with some work of art. What follows is a cooly analytical act of objectification. What were the artists' intentions and how well were they realized? Why did that act or song or sculpture come alive, or remain inert? Why did you feel and react--or not--the way you did?

“Maybe it's that business of being both witness and judge that makes critics such vexing creatures to the civilian public--prejudiced and bloodless, ill-informed and overly powerful, occasionally useful and often destructive. Like most people in this line of work, I've been treated with both more courtly deference and more full-blown contempt than I probably deserved over the years...

“The great sustaining privilege that criticism affords--writing it, reading it--is the very thing that can seem so troublesome about it. Critical reflection doesn't have to strangle an emotional response. At best it can deepen and expand that response, brighten thought and feeling and find that shining place inside you that's been opened up by a work of art. It's a daunting, humbling, endlessly open-ended thing to attempt. 'Be silent when you doubt your Sense,' Alexander Pope advised in his 'Essay on Criticism' (1711), 'And speak, tho' sure, with seeming Diffidence.'”

-- “Steven Winn says goodbye to The [San Francisco] Chronicle”

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