Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth
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The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever
Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. Scott shows in Better Living Through Criticism is that we are, in fact, all critics: because critical thinking informs almost every aspect of artistic creation, of civil action, of interpersonal life. With penetrating insight and warm humor, Scott shows that while individual critics--himself included--can make mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't, criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest, most creative, and urgent activities of modern existence.
Using his own film criticism as a starting point--everything from his infamous dismissal of the international blockbuster The Avengers to his intense affection for Pixar's animinated Ratatouille--Scott expands outward, easily guiding readers through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley, the origins of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, the power of Marina Abramovich and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn.' Drawing on the long tradition of criticism from Aristotle to Susan Sontag, Scott shows that real criticism was and always will be the breath of fresh air that allows true creativity to thrive. "The time for criticism is always now," Scott explains, "because the imperative to think clearly, to insist on the necessary balance of reason and passion, never goes away."
qualities of the book or film or song in question than with the circumstances of their discovery. But the nature and the mechanism of the transformation—how did your life change? What was the difference between before and after?—rarely receive much analysis. It could be just a figure of speech, but it is also a hyperbolic way of acknowledging the momentarily disruptive impact of art on the equilibrium of everyday consciousness. To say that something changed your life is also to say that it
received or what they said—no Rotten Tomatoes aggregation preserved in cuneiform, no Charlie Rose roundtable captured on a cartouche—we can find a concise early indictment in the last sections of what survives of Aristotle’s Poetics, in a grumpy statement attributed to Glaucon (who as it happens was Plato’s older brother): “Critics,” Glaucon said (according to Aristotle), “jump at certain groundless conclusions; they pass adverse judgment and then proceed to reason on it; and, assuming that the
Alienation from the common lot is so deeply embedded in the basic idea of what a critic must be that it becomes necessary, again and again, to assert otherwise. Warshow’s “man” is a version of Blackmur’s “amateur,” and a precursor of the democratic (as opposed to royal) “we” that enlivened the prose of the great film critic Pauline Kael. And Kael, like Warshow though with far less anxiety, positioned herself as a smart, passionate antisnob, pitting the supremacy of the immediate experience
Holinshed, Raphael, 28 Hollywood, 9, 25, 98, 114, 177 Horace, 100, 134, 188 Hound & Horn, 223 Howells, William Dean, 222–23 Huffington Post, 8 Iliad (Homer), 37 imitation, 24, 33, 40, 161 Incredibles, The, 268 In Defense of Reason (Winters), 232 influence, 32 Inside (Ohlin), 125 Internet, 4, 159, 174, 175, 214, 220, 221, 246–52 Jackson, Samuel L., 3–5, 7–9, 155 James, Clive, 160 James, Henry, 238, 240 The American, 104–8, 115, 116, 117 The Portrait of a Lady, 105 “The Science of
monuments and muddy footprints of the great. How to make room for yourself? How to make it appear—to yourself first of all, but then to everyone else—as if you belong? These are the kinds of questions that underlie Harold Bloom’s idea of influence, a version of tradition that replaces Eliot’s ideal order with the passion and tumult of contending personalities and errant meanings. “Poetic influence,” according to Bloom, “always proceeds by a misreading of the prior poet, an act of creative