Notes from the Grid: To Criticize the Critic

Notes from the Grid: To Criticize the Critic Human Voices Wake Us

An episode from 5/2/22: Tonight, I continue with the second in a five-part series called Notes from the Grid. It might as well be subtitled: How We Live Now, and along the way I take up things like technology, education, privacy, creativity, what it means to be an adolescent and what it means to be middle-aged, and so much else.

The first part is called “To Criticize the Critic,” and it wonders what the use of criticizing, explaining, or pretending we can objectively judge art, really is. I come to the conclusion that, so long as we don’t think that criticism–whether in the snobbiest journals or just as the water cooler on Monday morning–can ever be objective, talking about the reasons why we like or dislike something can be a wonderful and essential way to pass the time.

It is only when we pretend that critics are doing anything like what the artists themselves are doing, or when we take their claims of authority seriously, that we open the door to so much unnecessary suffering. A remark from Picasso sums it up best: “Mathematics, trigonometry, chemistry, psychoanalysis, music and whatnot, have been related to cubism to give it an easier interpretation. All this has been pure literature, not to say nonsense, which has only succeeded in blinding people with theories.”

The second part (begins at 27:02), “What We’re Doing When We Think We’re Doing Nothing,” takes as its jumping-off point a quote the actor Richard Burton: “I am fascinated by the idea of something but its execution bores me.” From here I wonder about all the pressures creative people put on being successful, prolific, or in just finishing anything at all. I suggest that authors and artists should place as few expectations on themselves as possible, and that we even shouldn’t be expected to be able to talk about what we’ve done, after it’s finished.

Finally, in wondering what this might mean in my own life, I realize that even if I leave a handful of decent poems or essays in my wake, my notebooks and diaries (and now a podcast) might actually be the best of me, those words that I dash off quickly before going on to “what I’m really trying to do.

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