On response

[Monica Canilao]



Via 3Quarks today, I found this link to a column by Morgan Meis on criticism and art.

He begins:

Criticism isn’t powerful anymore. It doesn’t drive anything, it doesn’t define what is good and bad in culture. Surely this has mostly to do with all the changes in the media landscape over the last few decades. Basically, culture has been democratized. It has been flattened out and multiplied. There are no longer real distinctions between high and low. There’s just more.

It's a great piece, centering on the issue of distance between the work of art and the critic. I think it's important to also think about reconfiguring the concept of the artwork -- as well as the place and role of the critic. What I mean is that it would help enormously to think of the artwork as something open -- not closed off, not static, not impenetrable. I've spoken of this before [1 + 2 + 3 + 4]-- the Pierre Menard theory of art. To think of the activity of the critic as a response -- to think of those who respond as critics (though the term no longer seems quite right). The barriers become much more fluid -- though not necessarily abolished or muddied. It's about transitioning away from traditional concepts of creativity and novelty -- no more masterpieces, no more genius. From Valéry :

The need to complete, to respond by producing either the symmetrical or the similar, the need to fill an empty time or space, to satisfy an expectation, or to hide the ungainly present beneath gratifying images -- are they not all manifestations of a power which, increased by the transformations effected by the intellect with its multitude of methods and techniques borrowed from our experience of practical action, has thus become capable of those great works by a few individuals who from time to time achieve the highest degree of necessity that human nature, as though in response to the variety and indeterminateness of all the possibilities within us, can obtain from its ability to make use of the arbitrary?


Meis' very important point is that we can no longer act as traditional critics -- the effect of proliferation -- there's too much of everything. I thought of the claims made by Edmund Wilson -- claims I've written of before -- complaining that critics then were only talking about what was to like about a book or a work of art and not connecting the work of art outward to some social commentary -- complaining that critics were too close to their works.

I was also reminded of what this web-world is about -- a particular closeness -- the choice to remain inward and look deep and to perhaps trace out one or two lines -- to help with reading and with responding. What is beautiful is that as these particular affinities pile up, the ones that shine with a truer and clearer understanding -- with a greater effort and a well-informed understanding, those become treasures not just to the blog-readers who share in an affinity, but also to those people who may not have ever responded to a particular work of art. They open up communication (how long have we been saying that) -- but it's not necessarily the communication of web-person to web-person, it's the communication of reader to story, the realized possibility of a response that otherwise may have never been.
We must always be on the watch for too much haste, too little thought, too overbearing of an agenda -- but between the large well-trod flagstones that make up this web-world of readers and responders there have accumulated lovely intricate villages -- like the mosses and gravel and little ant-hills that line the patio -- woven together from disparate elements but still introducing, inspiring and responding.