A.O. Scott: Better Living Through Criticism



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I ead this for some hours until I toppled sideways slowly and crumpled to the floor where they found me still breathing but only just I write this from a private No Limits (Brutal Master room tubes going into various parts They say I will make a fullecovery They say it was a good thing I didn t make it past page 215 There s a woman in the next oom been there for three weeks now she ead the whole thing She hasn t said a word yet Her family say they will be consulting their lawyers But I don t think A O Scott can be prosecuted He meant well And what would the charge be For me it would be severe frustration His book asks a series of eally great uestions How do we know something is goodWhat s the best way to be wrongWho needs critics nowadays anyhow Hasn t the Tomatometer taken overIs art drowning in itselfAnd others too He then smothers and crushes the life out of these interesting things by sucking all the oxygen from every dry paragraph Here is an example But even as we drift into a state of antiscientific mock scepticism we also worship idols of vulgar pseudoscientific empiricism The opiate of the half enlightened masses in the digital era is information data the math impersonal unarguable but nonetheless mysterious numbers that promise to turn our messiest and most intractable problems into sudoku puzzles The burgeoning industries of TED talk idea flogging pop science publishing and slick explanatory journalism offers the steady seduction of cool counterintuitive insights and frictionless solutions And blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blahThere was a moment when this brainy white noise suddenly focussed and sharpened and the book came alive this was when he started discussing the specific examples of the movies Bringing Up Baby and The Searchers and how critics had dissed them to begin with and how their eps had isen I was interested in that but it didn t last long and the generalities the high minded abstractions the yellow clouds of poison gas cultural ambling and fumbling and concaternating blathered me into my life threatening coma I may join in a class action suit with the woman in the next oom We won t be the only victimsThis guy got to page 109 I am predisposed to like any book that eferences Teju Cole s Open City Philip Larkin All About Eve and the snark vs smarm debate with intelligence and insight but the delight of this book is that Scott takes both his voice and argument to places that I didn t expect Even while etreading a gleefulness animates his prose and hetoric and makes his general enterprise feel novelI laughed out loud dozens of times sometimes out of surprise the self interviews are hilarious sometimes out of ecognition I gained new perspectives on things that I thought I d covered in full several times over form vs content for instance Scott s passionate digressions on Marina Abramovic s The Artist is Present and Rilke s Archaic Torso of Apollo were especially charming and could with light editing stand alone as art and poetry eviews in The New York Review of BooksScott early on grounds the discussion in classical aesthetics philosophy as well as Kant s work on aesthetics bringing up the tension between The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now than everFew could explain let alone seek out a career in criticism Yet what AO 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.

He objective judgments and subjective feelings that make up our esponses to art This had me thinking about how similar art is in this way to love and sex long before Scott tackles this connection himself In addition to eporting the theory that many people who went to see The Artist is Present fell in love with Abramovic Scott teases out a beguiling and ironic interpretation from my least favorite Larkin poem Talking in Bed Scott believes that the narrator of Talking in Bed finds it difficult to make pillow talk because he is suppressing his natural critical esponse to what he has just experienced Art is not sex carried out by other means but it seems to be subject to similar anxieties and taboosThe origin of criticism lies in an innocent heartfelt kind of uestion one that is far from simple and that carries enormous isk Did you feel that Was it good for you Tell the truth I think the book doesn t uite fit the title and I d be very surprised if the title did not come before the manuscript Better Living Through Criticism is less instructive and evangelizing in its wisdoms than the title would suggest In fact it is often inuisitively self erasing Finally the book might have carried emotional punch if I self identified as a critic I am instead the happy amateur a path that among other things keeps me off of Twitter where this book was apparently bornSamuel Jackson we know you can t take it but can you dish it out Better living awaits you if you do Better Living Through Criticism and a Strawberry Enema NYTs AO Scott is the worst writer and most unbearable film critic suirting his juvenile thoughts on the market today The ultimate in bs and boring pretention Sniff his title Why not Better Homes Gardens In sum he is unreadable nature of the critic is to unpack the underpinnings of artistic endeavor Love them or hate them critics perform a vital service in the creative continuum deconstructing moviesalbumsbooksplays down to their euisite pieces and casting the bones in an effort to call forth larger cultural themes and ideasSome choose to do this by way of unrelenting pessimism focusing on the negative aspects of a piece of work in order to exert a kind of creative enforcement Others choose to shine a light on the positive juxtaposing the good against the outline of the shadow being castEither way AO Scott makes clear the inherent value of criticism in his new book Better Living Through Criticism How to Think About Art Pleasure Beauty and Truth Scott longtime film critic for The New York Times offers up his thoughts about the nature and necessity of criticism and the vital ole it plays in shaping the cultural landscapeIt should be noted that the inspiration for this book seems to have been a brief Twitter beef with actor Samuel L Jackson who didn t care for Scott s eception of The Avengers and implied that the critic should perhaps seek out a new line of workIn many ways Better Living Through Criticism comes off as a defense of the job While Scott himself is a professional critic a gig that is gradually being supplanted by the ever growing hive mind of the Internet the book is about AO Scott s ideas yes but it is also a celebration of all manner of criticism Scott isn t necessarily a fan of the blogosphere or online aggregation but he also ecognizes that the art of critical writing must evolve to. Mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest most creative and urgent activities of modern existenceUsing 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 animated Ratatouille Scott expands outward easily guiding eaders through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley the origins of.

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Better fit the online age in which we liveAs you might expect there are than a few highbrow eferences peppering the proceedings Immanuel Kant Rainer Maria Rilke and Susan Sontag feature prominently but Scott doesn t estrict himself to elitist expression he gives a lot of love to movies like Howard Hawks s screwball masterpiece Bringing Up Baby and Pixar s delightful Ratatouille He s someone who sees value in work up and down the creative cultural spectrum Through it all his constant touchstone is the partnership he perceives between artist and criticA noteworthy device that Scott uses throughout is a sort of imaginary dialogue with himself Four times he interrupts the proceedings with a uestion and answer session in which he is both interviewer and interviewee continuing the almost tradition of the self interview Scott cites David Foster Wallace s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men as his inspiration but it vibes old fashioned like the one man As that gained prominence in the 50s and 60s Its presence is a touch baffling but it does help introduce of Scott s own identity into the proceedings something that is somewhat lacking in the est of the bookScott s many ideas about the value of criticism basically boil down to the notion that it is a key component to the creative process Generally art is intended to evoke some sort of eaction from an audience criticism serves as an official take if you will uantifying the impact made by an artistic workIt warrants mentioning that Scott s choices egarding depth of exploration vary from concept to concept sometimes he spends time with an idea than might seem necessary while other times he skims the surface of a thought that could have merited a layered take However even the lightest touch offers a truthful and measured perspectiveThere s something wonderfully meta about eviewing a book about the value of eviewing Better Living Through Criticism offers some broad and engaging insights into the art and craft of creative commentary However you might view the merits of criticism there s no denying that this book is engaging well wrought and thought provoking This book of philosophical essays by New York Times movie critic AO Scott was hugely disappointing and not even worth a full write up at my main arts center s blog For while I m a big fan of Scott s insightful essays for the newspaper and was hoping that in this book he was going to go into detail about how he goes about the business of actually writing them it s instead one of those books where he traipses across the entire human history of critical thought and then says Look at this famous project from the past Doesn t it ask some interesting uestions Now look at this famous project from the past Doesn t it ask some interesting uestions That s true they do indeed ask interesting uestions but in the meanwhile Scott barely shares even one opinion of his own about the craft and art of being a good critic turning this into a survey about the history of people being critical and sort of proving that he has nothing of original interest to actually say about it Based on the book s title and Scott s populist history I thought this was going to be of a practical guide on how to be a better critic of the arts yourself but it s certainly not that so stay far away if you were expecting something similar yourself. 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 eal 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 eason and passion never goes aw.

A O Scott joined The New York Times as a film critic in January 2000 Previously Mr Scott was a Sunday book reviewer for Newsday and a freuent contributor to Slate The New York Review of Books and many other publications He has served on the editorial staffs of Lingua Franca and The New York Review of Books In addition to his film reviewing duties Mr Scott often writes for the Times Mag