[ExI] Objective standards?

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Wed Sep 30 20:55:57 UTC 2015

On Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 9:43 AM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com>

> I thought for sure I did not have to provide examples to you of people who
> went on to have great careers in the arts whom critics dismissed at first -
> Stravinsky and the uproar over Rite of Spring.  Some, like Alkan, were
> dismissed their entire lives and were only admired far later.

The general public, IIRC, _supposedly_ dismissed Stravinsky -- not the
music critics. However, we were talking about literary critics. You were
drawing conclusions about them as a whole. What's the standard against
which the critic is to be measured here? Whether they predict popular
tastes or popular reception of a work? If so, then we're not talking about
literary or art criticism as such but about predicting what the mass
audience will like or not. How would that work with, say, biological
theories? We know many people who simply won't receive evolution well.
Would you want reviewers of evolutionary biology texts to review based on
whether the text will sell, especially amongst an audience who disagrees
with evolutionary theory?

By the way, there's some controversy over whether Stravinsky's "The Rite of
Spring" actually caused an uproar -- including whether it was stage (the
riot) or whether it actually happened at all. What would such a riot do for
the work at that time or now? Would it cause people to ignore it? And are
you arguing it was music critics rioting? And also the riot was supposed to
have been caused by folks for and against Stravinsky fighting each other.
That would signify not that there was a universal or universal critical
antipathy toward the piece, but a violent division between the crowd. Thus,
I think you're presenting weak evidence here.

And Alkan? He was admired during his lifetime, though he didn't achieve
popular success until his death. Some of this might have had to do more
with his personality than anything else. But what does this mean? The
expert opinion of his day seemed to like him, though the popular audience
didn't -- probably mostly because they simply weren't exposed to his music.
What does this tell about music criticism? Maybe not much. After all, the
average person, even the average music enthusiast, can't hear all the work
that's being produced in their age. This was especially so when Alkan
lived. There was no music recording to speak of, so music had to be live
music. Someone either had to hear his music played live or to know how to
read (and play?) music and get copies of his music.

Let's say, though, that the critic is mistaken according to some objective
standard of art criticism -- if they are any. Then wouldn't the issue be
that said critic were either not applying the standard correctly or not
using the standard at all? You comment strikes me along the lines of
damning physics as an enterprise because some physicist or engineer made
mistakes in application or used the wrong theory all together.

This applies doubly if esthetic standards are work-specific. For instance,
if Stravinsky's works -- all of which vary immensely in their elements,
unlike say that of Mozart -- carry with them a different esthetic standard
than those of Mozart (or The Beatles), then it's easy to see a critic
making the mistake of applying the wrong standard. This would be similar to
judging a prose novel awful because it's not written in rhyming verse.

> All I look for in art is pleasure.  Loved reading that book; loved hearing
> that sonata.  I've been known to read an author's entire output based on
> one book and have rarely been wrong.  Any additional meanings are lagniappe.

Well, I think one point of criticism is to find work you might like and
another is to become aware of things you might miss. I see nothing wrong
with the latter. I've enjoyed works of music better by being shown what's
going on in them as opposed to just listening ignorantly and clapping my

For me, too, criticism has sometimes changed how I feel about a work by
showing me what I missed. Unlike you, I haven't read many author's entire
outputs, and I lack the knowledge and experience to place every aspect of
any work into perspective along all dimensions. Thus, when I read something
like _Wuthering Heights_, I have to put some trust in critics rather than
read all 19th century novels and know everything about the time. :)

> Yeah, thumbs up works for me.  I'll figure out the symbolism, relation to
> earlier works and so forth for myself. ​

See above. Unlike you, I'm not near omniscient, so I often need help
pointing out all this stuff. I haven't read, for instance, more than a
handful of novels in any period or subject or none at all. When I read,
say, Thomas Bernard (again, don't read him; I'm almost certain you'll hate
his work and, worse, tell me about it:), I've only read a handful of
Central European novels, so I have to rely on others to draw out things I
might have missed.

Of course, this doesn't mean sheepishly following the exegetical analysis
of anyone. I hope I'm independent-minded enough to judge some of it for
myself, though reading several others on a work often help because their
impressions and opinions vary forcing me to weigh them against one another.
I find nothing sad or bad about this. I make no apology for reading
criticism. (In fact, it's strange that you don't want to apologize for your
tastes but you appear to try to shame others into apologizing for things
like reading criticism and theory.:)

> ​Why read critics when you can be reading books?  Can you name names of
> authors or composers that would not have encountered if not for a review?

I can't be sure about who I might not have encountered if I never read any
literary criticism. Authors I found through reading literary criticism:
Thomas Bernard, Dino Buzatti, Jan Potocki, Hermann Broch, Juan Goytisolo,
and Gustav Meyrink.

As for composers, I usually listen to the music directly, though I do read
some reviews and that's often gotten me to listen in the first place --
even if it's a short descriptive blurb. If that's acceptable as a review,
then: Pall Isolfsson,  Eric Zeisl, and Enrique Granados. Actually, Granados
is one where I do recall reading Peter Saint-Andre's piece praising him --
not a piece of technical music analysis, but more impressionistic review.

> The critics I do read are music critics in American Record Guide.  I also
> read the Book Review section of the NYT, but that's all.  I pay no
> attention to the critic's name - probably a mistake.  bill w​
Can't fault you for not reading them at all. I do pay attention to the
names though. I tend to read more books here than articles in periodicals.
I still feel you're overgeneralizing. Many of your comments lead me to
believe you just hold a knee-jerk view of criticism -- one that's
completely dismissive.


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