Κυριακή, 30 Ιανουαρίου 2011

Τέλος εποχής της κριτικής;

Hari Kunzru

Συζήτηση που άνοιξε στον Observer, ανάμεσά τους κι αγαπημένοι μου συγγραφείς:

Hari Kunzru, novelist: 'Critics praise work that doesn't upset them. So much looks like art but just tastes of cardboard'

In America, cultural elitism has little to do with the arts. In the virulent debate between Jacksonian populists and whoever they've got in their gunsights/surveyor's symbols this week, "culture" largely refers to values – belief in God, patriotism, the nuclear family and so forth. The idea of an artistic "critical elite" usually only turns up in cases such as the recent controversy at the Smithsonian over the removal of a 1987 video by artist David Wojnarowicz, after complaints by Republican congressmen that the work was offensive to Christians.

Aesthetics is very much not the issue here. The point is an attack on the social legacy of the 1960s, and an attempt to reverse the decline in the punitive moral authority of the church. "New York", with its bankers and filthy art galleries and suspiciously European mass-transit system, often stands in for the nebulous idea of What Is Wrong With America. Or "Hollywood", understood as a Jewish conspiracy to undermine the nation by showing pictures of American soldiers losing and girls with their tops off.

In more ideologically sophisticated regions of the American right, the notion of a cultural elite is threatening because it suggests that value may spring from something other than pure market forces. How dare you, the unelected critic, presume a specialist knowledge that can override the mystical self-unfolding of consumer choice? In this landscape, the highbrow/lowbrow divide seems like a quaint relic of a bygone age. We now live under the hybrid tyranny of middlebrow. No serious person believes the Oscars are a list of the best films, or the Grammys the best music. Charitably one could say they represent a kind of averaging out, an index of the taste of a group of informed people. At worst, critics acting en masse, with one eye on what's popular and one eye on what's good, end up praising work that doesn't upset them. That's why there's so much stuff that looks like art, smells like art, but when you bite into it, it just tastes of cardboard.

This is why we have the internet. Social networks don't strive for consensus. Instead they thrive on argument. A feed populated by diverse people (professionals or amateurs, paid or unpaid) whose taste you trust (and a few with whom you disagree productively) is the best way to squirm out from the tedious flubbery weight of middlebrow culture. It's more work than getting your opinions off the TV, but once you try it, you'll never go back.


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