Sunday, August 19, 2012
In Praise of Criticism - I (Contra Gopnik)
For a tonic alternative to Adam Gopnik’s recent, dismaying, dismal view that “Criticism serves a lower end than art does, and has little effect on it” (“Postscript: Robert Hughes,” newyorker.com, August 7, 2012), check out Dwight Garner’s “A Critic’s Case for Critics Who Are Actually Critical” in this week’s The New York Times Magazine. Garner says, “The best work of Alfred Kazin, George Orwell, Lionel Trilling, Pauline Kael and Dwight Macdonald (to name just a few of the past century’s most perceptive critics) is more valuable – and more stimulating – than all but the most first-rate novels.” I totally agree. I’ll take critical analysis over narrative any day. As Garner says, “Give me some straight talk. Give me a little humor. Give me something real. Above all, give me an argument.”
Interestingly, in conjunction with “A Critic’s Case for Critics Who Are Actually Critical,” Garner posted a list titled “5 Critics Who Deserve a Statue” on the Times’ blog “The Sixth Floor” (nytimes.com, August 16, 2012). Three of the five are New Yorker contributors: Helen Vendler, Clive James, and Kenneth Tynan. They’re excellent choices. I particularly like what Garner says about Tynan:
Elegant theater critic. His critical profiles, which appeared in The New Yorker, are master classes. His smoking style — he held a cigarette between his two middle fingers — will give his statue an unbeatable élan.