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A critic's defense speech 

Better living through criticism.
Forfatter: A.O. Scott
Forlag: Penguin, 2016
The critic is testing how art can benefit citizens in civil society. We need the criticism more than ever! 


We live in a hectic media day, where one chance after another falls. Traditional paper newspapers work intensely to keep up with media technology developments and (readily) adapt to the online reality at a frantic pace. At the same time, the editorial staff is slimmed down to highly analogous employees, and in the districts, one local newspaper after another is thrown out with the digital bathing water. Behind the keyboard sit other typewriters and hammer out their opinions on social media – and professional bloggers enter into alliances with both "followers" and the advertising industry. It is written more than ever, only , places than before.

The role of criticism. Will major media corporations turn their nose to fully digital solutions? Do they have to – and do they have a choice? Will traditional paper newspapers that have existed since Hans Jæger commissioned his absinthe at Grand be replaced by rose bloggers? No one knows, but I think quality journalism will hold. People will continued appreciate knowledgeable and thorough writing – not least of the kind that goes in-depth and has not pushed from sponsors, multiple clicks or the next like on Facebook in the back. In the race to be up to date on the latest digital solutions, the desire for more solid and slower media will sign up more and more. There are many questions in the new media everyday. But here is the question of criticism – what is dense role in it all?

The criticism and argumentation. Many people think that the days of criticism are numbered – when we have blogs and social media, is this conservative institution ripe for scrap heap?

In no way, says film critic in The New York Times AO Scott, as in his book Better Living Through Criticism writes a fiery defense of criticism. It is touching reading for one who lives by this business himself, for basically it is not the emergence of new media or the digitization of them, but the conviction of the value of solid and experienced critics.

Of course, everyone likes different things, he admits – and here he had included every blogger on the team – but although "the taste is subjective", "there is nothing but argumentation". And this is where the critic comes in. Scott rejects that quality has to do with subjective taste when a critic is on the case – and refers to Immanuel Kant's Criticism of the judgment to ally with a heavyweight.

Subjective and universal. When you think something is good, it just doesn't hold like that, Kant argued, for well-being and everything that just appeals to you, does not provide "the highest pleasure" and says little about quality to others. "The taste of judgment must imply a demand for subjective universality," says the German philosopher strictly. This has puzzled generations of readers, but it's not as mysterious as it sounds, shall we believe Scott (and here I have to admit that I interpret him a bit). For the "universal subjectivity" is one formally claims, and not a claim when it comes contents. Although your assertion that the movie or movie is good should "claim the support of others," as Kant puts it, the point is not that everyone else mustn't just like the same movie since du Do it, but your argument is valid as an argument.

Simply put: When others can understand your reasoning and see the quality you point out to them through the critical line of thinking, they will be able to join the assessment even though they do not agree. This is what the critic should do, Scott thinks. Think clearly and clearly that itself, however on behalf to wander.

At one stage. "A critic is a person whose interest can help activate the interest of others," Scott writes at the end of the essay collection. Where others process the art experience in the private, the critic's task is to think aloud, on one stage, in a public: using their own deputy experience as a medium to highlight how others can use the work that is up for review. "There is no private criticism," Scott writes.

The universal in the subjective arises when he goes from expressing that the color blue (for example) appeals to him, to explaining why it does so in a specific context – which is a particular work of art to be considered in a text. The general or universal lies in a ground that is transparent and understandable.

For example, we could say that the use of the color blue is so appealing in Derek Jarman's film Blue – which only consists of the color blue and voice-over – because it connects to both a geographical and imaginative horizon. When we also know that the film was about the experience of becoming blind, it becomes even more important, because if there is one thing a blind director wants to look for, it is synesthesia: sensory experiences that can combine taste and sound with image, and at least partially replace the sense of sight. The color blue denotes sea and sky and can be experienced even if they cannot be seen because they are a framework for the world, as such, and because they can be heard. The sea is roaring and the wind is blowing.

Overcoming passivity. For Scott, quality is about what makes you imagine. Art, film and literature that, at one level or another, are all about making you a better person and overcoming prejudice, are on the right track, he believes. We must overcome respect for what we see or hear and see what we have in common with it – that's probably why we like it so much, he thinks.

"We have to translate awe into understanding," Scott writes – because that is how we can overcome the distance between ourselves and the work. It is also in this way that we can see what hits us with it, and can continue to answer why resonance arises. This is how we can overcome the passivity that lies in "just being entertained" or endorsing established views on canonized art. To agree with everyone else about the quality of a picture of Munch or a movie by Godard is almost meaningless because you are wiping yourself out in panegyric.

That's when you can locate what du share with Ibsen and Munch, that you really see what quality consists in, for quality has to do with yourself and in what direction you can think or feel videre, outward the framework of the work. What hits you with an artwork is what makes the artwork great.

Professional and independent. If you manage to find this common horizon for you and the work, you are already participating in the creative work that has been put into it from before. Processing can take many forms, but if you are touched by something, it will continue in some sense. Maybe only in your own head, but the work is just as real. The critic's job is to explain the – and what part of the artwork the critic is facing that corresponds to him or her. And no one is better trained for the task, Scott thinks.

Critics are independent actors – they are neither purchased and paid for by academia or private interests – but use their deputy experience to test how art, literature and film can be used for civil society citizens. There is no one else who can do just as well.

Kjetil Røed
Freelance writer.

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