web site hit counter Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth

Availability: Ready to download

The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. 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 insi The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. 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 mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't, criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest, most creative, and urgent activities of modern existence. Using 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 readers through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley, the origins of 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 real 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 reason and passion, never goes away."


Compare

The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. 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 insi The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. 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 mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't, criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest, most creative, and urgent activities of modern existence. Using 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 readers through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley, the origins of 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 real 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 reason and passion, never goes away."

30 review for Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    I read 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 room, tubes going into various parts. They say I will make a full recovery. They say it was a good thing I didn’t make it past page 215. There’s a woman in the next room been there for three weeks now, she read 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 Sc I read 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 room, tubes going into various parts. They say I will make a full recovery. They say it was a good thing I didn’t make it past page 215. There’s a woman in the next room been there for three weeks now, she read 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 really great questions : How do we know something is good? What’s the best way to be wrong? Who needs critics nowadays anyhow? Hasn’t the Tomatometer taken over? Is art drowning in itself? And 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 blah There 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 reps had risen – 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 rambling 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 room. We won’t be the only victims. This guy got to page 109.

  2. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    Reading Better Living Through Criticism gave me exactly the same cramped and unpleasant feeling that I got from reading Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion: I wanted serious inquiry and instead felt pummeled and bullied into a corner by poorly argued dogma. At times Scott begins his argument about the uses of criticism with a false axiomatic principle--usually a belief that I don't ascribe to, but that Scott says I do ("everyone knows that critics are failed artists, and let me tell you why you're Reading Better Living Through Criticism gave me exactly the same cramped and unpleasant feeling that I got from reading Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion: I wanted serious inquiry and instead felt pummeled and bullied into a corner by poorly argued dogma. At times Scott begins his argument about the uses of criticism with a false axiomatic principle--usually a belief that I don't ascribe to, but that Scott says I do ("everyone knows that critics are failed artists, and let me tell you why you're wrong to think so"). And sometimes he does the opposite, taking his own beliefs as universally accepted, because he thinks they're true, and not even bothering to tell me why I should also believe the same way. So I as a reader end up feeling pushed around, not convinced. I also resented the folksy/apologetic tone Scott adopts. As I read, I kept thinking: "if you want me to think about your ideas seriously then you need to take your ideas seriously, yourself." A critic who tries to sound dumb and average not only demeans himself but also demeans me as a reader. The decision to write this book as a faux Socratic dialogue also failed, for me, because the questions asked in the dialogue are somewhat dopy and disingenuous. They reminded me of the questions you might find in a marketing brochure that are there to lead customers to buy your product and reject competing products. Hence the dreaded 2 star review from me (2 stars being my least favorite read)--there is not enough meaty argument here even to hate this book to a one-star level; there is just enough to bore and to annoy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Sun

    I am predisposed to like any book that references 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 retreading, a gleefulness animates his prose and rhetoric and makes his general enterprise feel novel. I laughed out loud dozens of times, sometimes out of surprise (the self-interviews are hilarious), sometimes out I am predisposed to like any book that references 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 retreading, a gleefulness animates his prose and rhetoric and makes his general enterprise feel novel. I laughed out loud dozens of times, sometimes out of surprise (the self-interviews are hilarious), sometimes out of recognition. 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 reviews in The New York Review of Books. Scott early on grounds the discussion in classical aesthetics philosophy as well as Kant's work on aesthetics, bringing up the tension between the objective judgments and subjective feelings that make up our responses 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 reporting 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 response 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 taboos... The origin of criticism lies in an innocent, heartfelt kind of question, one that is far from simple and that carries enormous risk: Did you feel that? Was it good for you? Tell the truth." I think the book doesn't quite 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 inquisitively self-erasing. Finally, the book might have carried more 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 born. Samuel Jackson, we know you can't take it, but can you dish it out? Better living awaits you if you do...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Dawn

    So much of this book has resonated with me, of which I have highlighted so much. This is one I want to purchase and own for reference, as I’m sure I will return to it often!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sketchbook

    Better Living Through Criticism and a Strawberry Enema. ~~ NYTs AO Scott is the worst writer and most unbearable film critic squirting his juvenile "thoughts" on the market today. The ultimate in b.s. and boring pretention. Sniff his title ! Why not Better Homes & Gardens ? In sum, he is unreadable. Better Living Through Criticism and a Strawberry Enema. ~~ NYTs AO Scott is the worst writer and most unbearable film critic squirting his juvenile "thoughts" on the market today. The ultimate in b.s. and boring pretention. Sniff his title ! Why not Better Homes & Gardens ? In sum, he is unreadable.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    A.O. Scott is kind of a big deal. He's a film critic for the New York Times and has been at it long enough to be a recognizable name in the business. And so I assumed something along the lines of Stephen King's On Writing, a practical guide of sorts framed by personal anecdotes and a lifetime of experience. Instead it feels like a Philosophy of Criticism 101 class. Freed from the shackles of having to review Tyler Perry's latest, or yet another Jurassic movie, he throws on the smoking jacket and A.O. Scott is kind of a big deal. He's a film critic for the New York Times and has been at it long enough to be a recognizable name in the business. And so I assumed something along the lines of Stephen King's On Writing, a practical guide of sorts framed by personal anecdotes and a lifetime of experience. Instead it feels like a Philosophy of Criticism 101 class. Freed from the shackles of having to review Tyler Perry's latest, or yet another Jurassic movie, he throws on the smoking jacket and settles in to mine the likes of Rilke, Shaw, Kant, Sontag and Baudelaire to ask the question, is criticism necessary? And the answer for this and almost every other question posed in the book is yes and no. It's not looking for answers but instead content to excavate past philosophies. And here it veers back and forth from being incredibly smart and erudite, to sounding like the worst dinner guest imaginable - rambling in self important obliviousness. I'm no philosophy buff so it was exciting to listen to Scott drop some knowledge, pulled from history's great thinkers, and consider the philosophy of art and criticism. He's my kind of wordy and it's just approachable enough that I could follow along, but tends to overstay its welcome. If nothing else I suppose he did just manage to write a mandatory textbook for the Film Studies Class he currently teaches.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Allen Adams

    http://www.themaineedge.com/style/for... The 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 movies/albums/books/plays down to their requisite pieces and casting the bones in an effort to call forth larger cultural themes and ideas. Some 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 http://www.themaineedge.com/style/for... The 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 movies/albums/books/plays down to their requisite pieces and casting the bones in an effort to call forth larger cultural themes and ideas. Some 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 cast. Either way, A.O. 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 role it plays in shaping the cultural landscape. (It 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 reception of “The Avengers” and implied that the critic should perhaps seek out a new line of work.) In 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 A.O. 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 recognizes that the art of critical writing must evolve to better fit the online age in which we live. As you might expect, there are more than a few highbrow references peppering the proceedings – Immanuel Kant, Rainer Maria Rilke and Susan Sontag feature prominently – but Scott doesn’t restrict 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 critic. A noteworthy device that Scott uses throughout is a sort of imaginary dialogue with himself. Four times, he interrupts the proceedings with a question-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 more old-fashioned, like the one-man Q&As that gained prominence in the ’50s and ’60s. Its presence is a touch baffling, but it does help introduce more of Scott’s own identity into the proceedings - something that is somewhat lacking in the rest of the book. Scott’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 reaction from an audience; criticism serves as an “official” take, if you will, quantifying the impact made by an artistic work. It warrants mentioning that Scott’s choices regarding depth of exploration vary from concept to concept; sometimes, he spends more time with an idea than might seem necessary, while other times, he skims the surface of a thought that could have merited a more layered take. However, even the lightest touch offers a truthful and measured perspective. There’s something wonderfully meta about reviewing a book about the value of reviewing. “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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jana Light

    Here I am, writing a critical review about a book about criticism. And someone could (if so inclined and so bored) write a critical review about my critical review about a book about criticism. This Sisyphean effort to find the final word on any piece of human ingenuity or creativity is why Scott writes this book in the first place -- criticism, he argues, is the second-born twin of our inherent human condition, entering the world mere minutes after the first-born of the creative act. It is both Here I am, writing a critical review about a book about criticism. And someone could (if so inclined and so bored) write a critical review about my critical review about a book about criticism. This Sisyphean effort to find the final word on any piece of human ingenuity or creativity is why Scott writes this book in the first place -- criticism, he argues, is the second-born twin of our inherent human condition, entering the world mere minutes after the first-born of the creative act. It is both art and not-art. Critical analysis is as fallible as any other human endeavor, of course, but it provides a deeper look into and understanding of not only art but the quality of our lives, as well. Good criticism is even more important in the information age as a helpmate in parsing of the wheat from the glut of informational or artistically-produced chaff. I enjoyed this book and the celebration of the act of criticism, even if it didn't contain anything particularly enlightening. (The title promises a bit more than Scott delivers.) Happily, Scott doesn't shy away from admitting paradoxes, nor does he try to manufacture solutions to ultimately unanswerable questions. He emphasizes -- and even celebrates -- the dichotomy between a critic's entrenchment in the subjectivity of artistic enjoyment (passions) and the objectivity of analysis (reason), as well as the critic's delicate balancing act of individual and universal values. The Socratic, somewhat-schizophrenic passages bring to life the self-doubt and uncertainty that Scott claims plagues any good critic, the fact that a critic may have more of a mind divided (or mind complicated) on a piece of art than we would suspect from their writings. Writing good criticism is one of the most basic and yet difficult intellectual activities we can engage in, and Scott provides a nice case for why we should embrace it in our own lives.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    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 more 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 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 more 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 questions? Now look at this famous project from the past. Doesn't it ask some interesting questions?" That's true, they do indeed ask interesting questions; 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 more 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 more 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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shannakathleene

    Really a 2.5. A survey of the philosophy of criticism. But I was left cold deciphering what he thinks about his profession. Criticism is thinking? Criticism is art? Is it? Yes? No? So many???? So abstract. To be fair, I don't mind abstraction, but I felt the argument (ironically enough) was weak. Hedge, duck, etc. Really a 2.5. A survey of the philosophy of criticism. But I was left cold deciphering what he thinks about his profession. Criticism is thinking? Criticism is art? Is it? Yes? No? So many???? So abstract. To be fair, I don't mind abstraction, but I felt the argument (ironically enough) was weak. Hedge, duck, etc.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alissa Wilkinson

    YES!!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Two weeks ago, I read until page 117. I haven't picked up the book since, and I haven't been tempted to. I'm left with two main impressions: first, there are occasional moments of real insight. Some come at the end of meandering paragraphs, and they feel like asides. A very few feel like deliberate arguments Scott makes. Here's a good one: It may seem as if I am enclosing art (along with criticism) in a familiar corral of self-reference, an airless theoretical space in which poets write to, about Two weeks ago, I read until page 117. I haven't picked up the book since, and I haven't been tempted to. I'm left with two main impressions: first, there are occasional moments of real insight. Some come at the end of meandering paragraphs, and they feel like asides. A very few feel like deliberate arguments Scott makes. Here's a good one: It may seem as if I am enclosing art (along with criticism) in a familiar corral of self-reference, an airless theoretical space in which poets write to, about, and through other poets, movies make obsessive allusion to other movies, and every song is the echo of another song. But what I am really trying to do is zero in on the existential paradox of art itself, which springs out of an urge to master and add something to reality and finds itself immediately confronted with obstacles that are also its available tools.I like that a lot. (And yet this "existential paradox of art itself" is something Scott has been dancing around for the last 20 pages. Apparently he needs to be confined to essay form to write concisely.) Second - possibly meant as an extension of the idea of art in conversation with itself - here is the critic in conversation with himself. I found the first exchange incredibly gimmicky, but the second exchange almost works. That's the point where I began to think that, in this book on criticism, Scott is really criticizing himself: Q: ...It takes no effort at all to peg you, my friend, as a Gen-X baby boomer in the throes of middle age... You grew up in the backwash of the baby boom, with educated parents who subscribed to the New Yorker and bought the well-reviewed novels of the day... Punk rock saved you from feeling late for everything, and then a little after that hip-hop freed you from the nagging sense that you inhabited a stale, small world of provincial whiteness... Your life is college radio, literary snobbery, a conspiracy of the high and the low against the middlebrow; HBO and Adult Swim and the Criterion Collection; graphic novels and alt-country and Seinfeld - the narcissism of small differences elevated to an aesthetic principle. A: Well, when you put it that way... I can't say you're wrong. [Paragraphs later, Q calls A out for abstraction, deservedly so. Part of me wishes this book had been written entirely in Q's tone. At least it's direct.] [If you have to call yourself out for abstraction, maybe rethink those few pages?] Q: Frankly it sounds very superficial to me, like a kind of tourism, with some of the same ethical problems. You hop around the world grazing on things other people have made, using their hard realities for your amusement. And you seem blind to the privilege that underwrites your adventures - the available leisure, the disposable income, the educational advantages, the assumption that you are entitled to all this cool stuff without really working for it. You're talking about taking ownership of - or at least borrowing - experiences that don't belong to you and making them your own. Isn't what you call empathy really a kind of imperialism? A: Well, it's not as if I'm stealing anything. I take it that all these works - books, films, songs, and so on - are acts of communication, and that I have as much right as anyone to listen to what they're saying. Q: But don't you ever think that maybe they weren't meant for you? A: What are you suggesting? That I should have stayed within the boundaries of my identity? Sought out pleasures closer to home? ...Who's to say where the boundaries are? Who gets to draw them? And I suspect that if it was the other way around, if I was describing a paleface pantheon of dudes with daddy issues and girl trouble as my major sources of selfhood, you would accuse me of being too narrow, too provincial and exclusive, unable to appreciate difference, confined to my own cultural comfort zone. Q: Of course, I would. And I'd be right either way. A: I just can't win then. Q: Poor you. And that's where I lost interest. Oh, I read on - but once the book shifted (at least in my head!) from "what does the NY Times movie critic think about criticism as an idea?" to "memoir of a white dude working in media", I got bored. That sounds harsh, I know. It is harsh. But with that exchange, the book goes from a potentially intriguing beast to a giant cliche. Something which becomes less specific and interesting. Something which throws up its hands instead of digging in and examining difficult ideas. (That I'm dropping this and moving on to more Chalet School books is hilarious to me.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cody Sexton

    Criticism would be better if there were less of it. Today anyone with an internet connection can post any nonsense opinion they want, with little regard for taste or even basic grammar. So with this review what I want to do, more than anything else, is to explore a little of my own methods, techniques and feelings on the nature of criticism, how I approach it, and what I think it’s limitations are, and perhaps, most importantly, why you should even be listening to me in the first place. I suppose Criticism would be better if there were less of it. Today anyone with an internet connection can post any nonsense opinion they want, with little regard for taste or even basic grammar. So with this review what I want to do, more than anything else, is to explore a little of my own methods, techniques and feelings on the nature of criticism, how I approach it, and what I think it’s limitations are, and perhaps, most importantly, why you should even be listening to me in the first place. I suppose I wanted to be a critic from an early age, mostly because they got to do the things that I always wanted to do but was denied. They lived the kind of life that I wanted. I could never get to the theatre to see a play for example, so I read all the theatre reviews I could get my hands on. Likewise, the few novels that I could get my hands on were great, and always welcome, but it was always the book reviews that really stood out to me. More often the criticism was perfectly satisfying in its own right, complete and fulfilling enough to make anything more seem superfluous. However, the great majority of book reviews published today often give an inadequate or misleading account of the book that is being dealt with. And so, for me, when it comes to criticism and reviewing, two points are always paramount: (a) make your criticisms as honestly and forcefully as is appropriate, and (b) try to find any redeeming features in even the worst performance. Point (b) is perhaps the most egalitarian: hardly any book is completely void of some good qualities. It’s also important in a book review to convey accurately and succinctly what the author has to say before offering any evaluation whatsoever. Few books are perfect and many are defective in one way or another. Whenever you read a review by someone that contains nothing positive at all, but only criticism, you should be especially suspicious, the reviewer obviously has an agenda or a vendetta or simply wants to look tough. A good reviewer must above all be fair, even when highly critical; so he or she should try to be as equally positive as well as negative. This is not to say that this will always be possible, or compatible, especially if the reviewer is at all honest. Tone and style are also both crucial tools in the critic’s belt. Although, the greatest difficulty, as Elizabeth Hardwick has said, “...is making a point, making a difference, with words.” My ostensible goal when crafting a review, is to celebrate the good and condemn the bad, but I am at every turn thwarted by the sheer mass of mediocrity with which I must contend with. Until one has had some kind of professional relationship with books one does not discover just how bad the majority of them actually are. In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless’, while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be ‘This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.’ But the public will not pay to read that kind of thing. Why should they? They want some kind of guide to the books they are asked to read, and they want some kind of evaluation. But as soon as values are mentioned, standards collapse. In essence then, criticism is highly subjective. But it is a sort of subjectivity which strives towards a universal objectivity. We all agree that things such as beauty, truth, pleasure and pain exist. But we don’t always agree on which forms in which they manifest. And really, what meaning is there in the word ‘good’ anyway? Better Living Through Criticism attempts to answer this question, and is composed of six chapters and four dialogues, which opens with an imaginary, or perhaps not so imaginary, interviewer asking the critic: “What’s the point of criticism? What are critics good for?” And it says, just before it closes, that where criticism is concerned, “nobody has ever figured out where to begin, or what to conclude.” But does this mean we have gotten nowhere? Well, no. Critics perform a vital service in the creative continuum, deconstructing movies/albums/books/plays down to their requisite pieces and casting the bones in an effort to call forth larger cultural themes and ideas. Henry James wrote that criticism showed the mind engaged in “a reaching out for the reasons of its interest,” and Scott, says something similar toward the end of his buoyant and argumentative book: “Let’s say that a critic is a person whose interest can help to activate the interest of others.” In other words, the nature of the critic, is to try to unpack the underpinnings of artistic endeavor. But most people simply do not care enough to read about criticism, and so aren’t likely to read a defense of it, and people who are already committed to criticism don’t need it defended. Who, then, is Scott attempting to persuade? This uncertainty about audience is one of the most important and symptomatic facts about the book. It appears most clearly as a problem of reference, which is always an issue in criticism. A critic must assume a certain community of knowledge with the reader, or else the argument can never get started. But Scott is hesitant to take for granted any prior literary or historical knowledge on the part of the reader. No matter who or what is mentioned, Kant, H.L. Mencken, Henry James, Louis XIV, he introduces it with a journalistic tag: e.g., “Moby-Dick, (Melville’s) grand, tragic, philosophically ambitious narrative of an ill-fated whaling voyage.” This says both too much, who is the potential reader of Scott’s book that doesn’t know Moby Dick is a whale?, and too little, if you haven’t read Moby-Dick, three adjectives aren’t going to give you any real sense of it. Which makes the book extremely unfocussed in a way and I struggled to understand just exactly what the author wanted to accomplish. His measure of good criticism is almost too relative, too hard to nail down. Which is a function, primarily, of his laudable unwillingness to try to characterize what is good art or good literature given the variability of all forms of both and the tendency for many arbiters to see "quality" through a Western lens. But I would have preferred that he was a little more prescriptive about the principals behind what makes for good criticism which you would think is distinct from what is being critiqued. As a result, Better Living Through Criticism, ended up being a different book than what I was expecting. It was more personal and more abstract, really almost philosophical in it's approach to criticism. However, Scott does make a strong case for the inevitability of criticism as a feature of any society that values thinking of any kind and in the process, ends up providing an interesting history of criticism itself. Still yet, I do feel that the subject matter would have been better treated in essay form, rather than a full length manuscript. Elaborating on what is perhaps the boldest argument Scott puts forth in the book, “All art is successful criticism.” Sukhdev Sandhu writes, “All artists find themselves reckoning with the past, judging its achievements, assessing its relevance for the present, revolting against or carrying the baton for it. Huge swaths of contemporary culture – from hip-hop, to the films of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers – are constructed from borrowing, quotation, and meta-commentary, much of it bracingly original. Seen in this way, they are not just poster children for postmodernism, but direct descendants of Shakespeare who ransacked the cupboards of high and low literature, history and folklore in search of viable scenarios, cobbling together scraps of Ovid, Holinshed, Latin comedy, and commedia dell’arte sketches.” But criticism, even when it is not literary criticism, is still, nevertheless, a literary activity, it is a kind of writing. And a culture indifferent to writing will be indifferent to criticism. And criticism is always addressed not to fans, but to independent minds, people who express their enthusiasms through debate and analysis rather than dogged collecting and esoteric one-upmanship. And regardless of what may be believed, I do think it still matters what an unusual mind, capable of presenting fresh ideas in a vivid and original and interesting manner, thinks of books as they appear. I’ve written about a hundred book reviews since starting this blog and I believe the book review is one of the most valuable literary forms and not at all easy to do well. And I would encourage everyone to write them and to take them seriously. Whatever its occasional pandering, Better Living Through Criticism, does exemplify the rhetorical virtues it so enthusiastically celebrates as being peculiar to the critic: attentiveness to detail, alertness to context, and a hunger for larger meanings. Reminding us that in the end, it is the job of the artist to free our minds, but it is the job of the critic to help us figure out what to do with that freedom once we have it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dewey

    I read the pre-release of this book with great interest; given the nature of this blog. An absolution, designed to simultaneously prove his "bona fides" to criticize shitty movies like the Avengers as corporate schlock, while also demonstrating that criticism is a worthy and worthwhile endeavor, Scott's book largely succeeds. [Author's Note:This review is nerdy] AO, you shall find no argument here with this critic (seeking better living). Scott's philosophical treatise on the nature and necessit I read the pre-release of this book with great interest; given the nature of this blog. An absolution, designed to simultaneously prove his "bona fides" to criticize shitty movies like the Avengers as corporate schlock, while also demonstrating that criticism is a worthy and worthwhile endeavor, Scott's book largely succeeds. [Author's Note:This review is nerdy] AO, you shall find no argument here with this critic (seeking better living). Scott's philosophical treatise on the nature and necessity of criticism asks the reader, "is [criticism] a parasitic growth on the mighty trunk of human creativity" or instead the defense of art itself. Early in the book, Scott discusses Kant's paradigm for judgement which includes three levels---1) the agreeable; 2) the enjoyable; and 3) the good. Many tired or lazy consumers contend that taste is subjective and relative---and perhaps by definition with 1) and 2) that is the case. Buttttttttttttt, the goal of art should be number 3. Scott's contention is that while the interpretation of the "good" in art can reflect the times in which the art itself is created; good music, movies, literature is intrinsic and irreducible. That is to say, The Avengers can be 1 and 2, but never 3. My grandparents might not find Kendrick Lemar's To Pimp A Butterfly to be 1 or 2; but it is definitively 3 irrespective of their preference; an artistic statement that builds upon decades (centuries) of previous art while trying to successfully say something new and contextualizes the human condition e.g. struggle to find meaning. This book is essentially the philosophy of criticism, and thus is not for most people, but for anyone with an interest in the philosophy of criticism, understanding what drives criticism, or who wants to develop a firmer leg from which to argue their criticisms, this book is an important and relatively light read. Find more of reviews at: timeisrhythm.wix.com/home

  15. 4 out of 5

    Graeme Roberts

    Having finished reading "Better Living Through Criticism" a few minutes ago, I am ready to start again, partly to savor every nuance, and partly to write a fair review. It touches on so many questions that I have asked myself over the years, and brings elegant resolution to a few of them, but, most importantly, it points out ways to think about them. It will never be a blockbuster, thankfully, but will always be a masterpiece. Having finished reading "Better Living Through Criticism" a few minutes ago, I am ready to start again, partly to savor every nuance, and partly to write a fair review. It touches on so many questions that I have asked myself over the years, and brings elegant resolution to a few of them, but, most importantly, it points out ways to think about them. It will never be a blockbuster, thankfully, but will always be a masterpiece.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mina

    Why do we still need critics? That is the question. Well, because we will need to try something new, and we won't know where to start. We live with relativism, pluralism, Yelp, IMDb and you, darling Goodreads. Some will make the argument that critics are obsolete since no one can know what will actually work for you. They say some other things, too. Here's the answer I got: If you want more of what you like, the argument holds: you can choose yourself, try recommendation engines, ask your frie Why do we still need critics? That is the question. Well, because we will need to try something new, and we won't know where to start. We live with relativism, pluralism, Yelp, IMDb and you, darling Goodreads. Some will make the argument that critics are obsolete since no one can know what will actually work for you. They say some other things, too. Here's the answer I got: If you want more of what you like, the argument holds: you can choose yourself, try recommendation engines, ask your friends, look at the marketing, look at the ratings and read critic reviews. (Especially when I'm taking someone with me to see a movie) If you want something different, you can't Google 'something different' and you can't ask your friends - you likely got them the same place you got yourself. Recommendation engines work with similarities, marketers are motivated by the product at hand, not by the client at hand and enough has already been said about rating sites. However, a critic studied that genre, and what he or she is motivated by is being right, recognizing quality. And what if you disagree? Find another critic to guide you. And what if they completely trash the movie that rocked your world...? (Strange Magic, for me) This is how this story starts. A.O. Scott wrote a less-than-flattering review of the Avengers. A couple of interesting ideas: 1) The three aspects of appreciating something (Kant) the purely individual state of pleasure he calls “the agreeable,”... “the beautiful.” Beauty satisfies an impulse higher than mere sensuous appetite. And beyond the beautiful lies “the good,” which inspires admiration and respect. 2) The critic can bury and uncover a piece of work. That, beyond his or her reviewing function, is an increasingly pertinent necessity in this deluge of sources of entertainment. Most people can't market themselves efficiently or their backers don't find them marketable, but they can be found. 3) The critic ought to be trusted not to be a marketer. His choices might still be unpopular, but they reflect a human preference, whereas a marketer will be guided by a need to sell it regardless of preference. 4) Anyone who is afraid of ever being wrong will never say anything, but a critic can be wrong correctly. He thought, he compared, he analyzed, he came to a conclusion. A good critic is not lazy, a serious critic will not throw words at a book or a movie for the pleasure of it. (Below, there's a link to a notorious Giraldi review which has been decried as excessively mean. Maybe it is, but it's nowhere near House or Cox levels) 5) There is a discussion on meaning, content and representative art, further identifyiable by a discussion on music and mathematics. I'm pretty sure he was drunk, so some might enjoy it, but it's utter nonsense. Joking aside, do read it, it's a brain teaser, it's fun - but only when I reached home did I realize I'd been continuously arguing at the book for half an hour. Loudly. Discussed here: A.O. Scott's review of The Avengers Kant's The Critique of Judgement Rainer Maria Rilke's Archaic Bust of Apollo (in New Poems) Henry James's The American The Louvre and Mona Lisa Philip Larkin Teju Cole's Open City William Giraldi's review of Alix Ohlin's ‘Inside’ and ‘Signs and Wonders’ John Keats's death and Percy Bysshe Shelley's retort Herman Melville Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism Matthew Arnold's The Function of Criticism at the Present Time Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation Addison DeWitt in All About Eve and Anton Ego in Ratatouille Walter Pater's review of the Mona Lisa Finally, A.O. Scott's criticism pieces are the strongest, the ones he employs to showcase his opinions. Scott has a gift for mixing story and examination, one which likely suits him well in his job as a critic. His arguments, however, are his weaker point. Such narration appears an unfamiliar instrument and the result is clumsy in comparison. He flows easily from Rilke to the Louvre to the Mona Lisa, commenting history, anecdotes, cultural impact and meaning. The plodding beginning and contemplations are saved by the ludic of the interspersed dialogues. (view spoiler)[Spooked bystanders might have noticed a striding student arguing at her reader throughout a 30-minute walk in defense of music as a representative art and mathematics as something which you misrepresent utterly. Well, A-hah! Even Wilde agrees that music is a representative art (the Complete Letters, p.460)! I was in such a hurry to let you know how wrong you are, I didn't read the reasoning. Oh, well, I'm sure he knew what he was talking about. (hide spoiler)] Why do we still need critics? That is the question (I hate the question) Excuse me? I'm still reading. Keep 'em coming.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Lieberman

    Critics have it rough right now. Those at major old media institutions are seeing their employers scrambling for revenue, aggregators are diluting their individual influence, and artists of all mediums continue to skewer them, especially when they get lambasted by the critical establishment. As a blogger with a Lilliputian viewer count (especially when you take away the Russian referral spambots) who generally just doesn't review books I dislike, I'm largely shielded from/oblivious to such probl Critics have it rough right now. Those at major old media institutions are seeing their employers scrambling for revenue, aggregators are diluting their individual influence, and artists of all mediums continue to skewer them, especially when they get lambasted by the critical establishment. As a blogger with a Lilliputian viewer count (especially when you take away the Russian referral spambots) who generally just doesn't review books I dislike, I'm largely shielded from/oblivious to such problems. That said, I'm still interested in A.O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism, which details what "criticism" actually means and the purpose and societal value of such a thing. Scott is currently the chief film critic at The New York Times and one of the most-respected and blurbed critics in film today. His book covers major topics of criticism: is there an objective standard for quality or is enjoyment subjective to individual preferences, what makes someone a "good" critic, should everything be subject to intellectual incrustation, and so on. Scott examines all of these with an abundance of support from essays, works, and thought experiments. It should be noted that Better Living Through Criticism is concerned with criticism as a whole, not film criticism specifically. Scott has a literature degree from Harvard and started out at The New York Review of Books practicing the honorable craft of book reviewing. He's clearly a very well-read guy. Besides drawing examples from Ratatouille in his concluding chapter, Scott's sources rely less on Pauline Kael and her ilk and more on thinkers such as Kant and Aristophanes. Many of his cultural examples are from plays, poems, and literature. There are of course a few mentions of films and an interesting fictional dialogue (one of several throughout the book) of what initially got Scott interested in film criticism specifically) but this is by no means a book about film criticism specifically. If you're only interested in learning what it's like to review movies and Scott's criteria for what makes a good movie and so on you will not really find that here. I found Scott's strongest argument on the role and value of the critic to be the critic serving as a guide to what works are worth a busy person's time. When I was younger I had tons of time but non-tons of money, and as an adult these factors have been (relatively) reversed. In both cases, professional reviewers ranging from Electronic Gaming Monthly as a kid to The Quietus (and yes, Pitchfork too) as an adult were vital to identifying what cultural works I might like to consume with my allowance/hard-earned money. The best reviewers are able to articulate what makes a book/album/movie/video game etc. unique, what the consumer can expect, and the quality of such works, and Scott additionally notes how some of his favorite reviews imbued the reader with a vicarious sense of actually experiencing the content through prose. Critics never/rarely serve as the be-all and end-all to such decisions, but I consult them on a regular basis to see whether they can turn me onto some new media I'll probably like, and given the fact that sites like Rotten Tomatoes draw tons of traffic and Pitchfork effectively launched bands like the Arcade Fire through laudatory reviews I'm not alone in this sentiment. That is the same function I'm trying to serve on this ad-less blog (not driving tons of sales for authors or web traffic but that whole "I'm going to read a ton of books so you don't have to/because my subway commute is terribly long and let you know about the really good ones and some stuff I don't like as much"). Getting back to that aforementioned function on the non-ad-supported blog, Better Living Through Criticism is a heady read and will likely appear in quite a few college syllabuses in the future. This is both a testament to the fact that the book is thoughtful and well-articulated and also that it's a a pretty heady tome. The book is not an easy read, and I had some flashbacks to college lit classes and there were some parts that I struggled with. However, if you are a huge fan of dense and deep discussions on the nature of criticism and have a huge pre-existing knowledge of and interest in art of all kinds then there is a lot to like in Better Living Through Criticism. It's well-written and smartly constructed that will likely leave you with more respect for critics (thanks A.O.). 6.5 / 10

  18. 5 out of 5

    Taylor P

    Erudite and meticulous, Better Living Through Criticism would make an excellent textbook for the opening weeks of an undergraduate course on the history of criticism. Scott's work succeeds as a primer on the views on the art and science of criticism expounded by Pope and Arnold and Wordsworth that is eventually drawn forward to the present day and the role the critic can play in the age of digital media. But where it falters is as a general interest nonfiction text in its own right. It's dry, it Erudite and meticulous, Better Living Through Criticism would make an excellent textbook for the opening weeks of an undergraduate course on the history of criticism. Scott's work succeeds as a primer on the views on the art and science of criticism expounded by Pope and Arnold and Wordsworth that is eventually drawn forward to the present day and the role the critic can play in the age of digital media. But where it falters is as a general interest nonfiction text in its own right. It's dry, it's unapproachable, it smacks of elitism (which it both defends and derides). Its best moments from the perspective of reaching a broad audience are the witty interludes where Scott interviews himself, but those are too few and far between. I wanted more of Scott himself, more of his personal views, more of his own struggles with the challenges of criticism, more of his actual criticism itself; I wanted to see the practice, not just the theory. The thought here is unimpeachable if a bit superficial, and the prose is sophisticated and polished. It's just that Scott does better with shorter forms and didn't seem to settle on exactly what kind of book he wanted to write before writing it. Simply put, Better Living is more than adequate but could have been stronger with a bit more personality and a different, less academic structure.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    To be fair I didn't finish it so I'm not sure how I'm allowed to rate it. But it's due back at the library (today!) and quite frankly I haven't picked it up for close to a week. I was going along okay with it. It made me think a bit and I liked that. But I did do that "hmmm, how many pages have I got to go?" thing a little too often. I kept going onto the other book I've got going and I kept "meaning" to finish up A.O.'s tome. Soon. Yeah right. It's not that I didn't find the ideas interesting. S To be fair I didn't finish it so I'm not sure how I'm allowed to rate it. But it's due back at the library (today!) and quite frankly I haven't picked it up for close to a week. I was going along okay with it. It made me think a bit and I liked that. But I did do that "hmmm, how many pages have I got to go?" thing a little too often. I kept going onto the other book I've got going and I kept "meaning" to finish up A.O.'s tome. Soon. Yeah right. It's not that I didn't find the ideas interesting. Some of them anyway. But sometimes I felt a meandering going on and I couldn't always find the CENTER of what was going on. And well, he just didn't seem to be citing many interesting examples of things. Here's how you (smartly) tear apart this movie...here's what you should really be looking for in this book, etc. The whole thing (or I should say, the 2/3rds that I've read) left me feeling kind of wan.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alex Greenberger

    One of my favorite things about A.O. Scott's film reviews is that they're so unpretentious. You can read his thoughts on some obscure Romanian film, and it'll still make sense, whether you even knew the Romanian New Wave was a thing before you started the review or not. This book is sadly not quite that. There's a lot of long-winded explanations of Plato, Henry James, Immanuel Kant, and other tired literary sources. This is a very short book (just 270 pages), but, because of Scott's detours, it' One of my favorite things about A.O. Scott's film reviews is that they're so unpretentious. You can read his thoughts on some obscure Romanian film, and it'll still make sense, whether you even knew the Romanian New Wave was a thing before you started the review or not. This book is sadly not quite that. There's a lot of long-winded explanations of Plato, Henry James, Immanuel Kant, and other tired literary sources. This is a very short book (just 270 pages), but, because of Scott's detours, it's kind of a slog sometimes. He makes a lot of good points about criticism—for example, that it's okay (and even optimal, in a way) for writers to be wrong. Props to Scott for not writing yet another how-to guide for criticism, but I wish he had gone about doing it in a more accessible way.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    For the man who mistook Marie Antoinette for the French Revolution I give him the pitchfork and then the axe.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David Dinaburg

    There is an intention that I don’t quite grasp denoted by the subtitle How to think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. As I begin to write about Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth, I’m looking at a blank page—completely blank, eschewing my standard cheat-sheet of transcription that jump-starts my fingers—because I am not going to use any pull-quotes this time. At least, I intend not to, though after having finished writing and returned here There is an intention that I don’t quite grasp denoted by the subtitle How to think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. As I begin to write about Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth, I’m looking at a blank page—completely blank, eschewing my standard cheat-sheet of transcription that jump-starts my fingers—because I am not going to use any pull-quotes this time. At least, I intend not to, though after having finished writing and returned here to edit, I applaud my intentions while I doubt my veracity. But we’ll get to that later. A.O. Scott uses citation to great effect within his book; his format is the rigorous version of citation to which I aspire. In it, however, I see a dark shadow of its modern doppelganger, articles as position signaling, as shorthand branding, as surrogate personality. Borne from the deep recesses of places like medium.com, such websites have become collections of unfiltered everyman blogs posited as erudite repositories of curated insight. They house unedited op-eds repurposed as facebook sharing-bait for the insidiously motivated, intellectually dishonest, or depressingly clueless. Pointing to what someone else has said to make your point for you is the backbone of research; repurposing it into your own arguments is the soul of academia. But it can also herald mindlessness regurgitation, totalitarian conformity, social control. In short, no excerpts from me this time. While the text is rife with quotations covering all manner of topic, how, functionally, to think about criticism isn’t embraced. Closer to why, maybe, but not quite that either. A substitution for the imperative might be more functional, but Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth is more grating and demanding than How to Think, and that hard edge bugs me even more. At this point, I’ve gone back to the text to copy those passages I’ve marked, and to make sure there isn’t any section that directly refutes my above statement. I like quotations, personally, for when I re-read my own reviews. Writing reviews are a bit of a bait and switch—I want to remember what I have gleaned from the text, but in truth it forces me, in recalling what I’ve read over the last few years, to confront the work I’ve done, to see my typos from the distance of months or years, to acknowledge how loose I am with semi and full colons (loose colons, there’s an especially lovely image for you, you’re welcome), to try not to go back and truncate the run-on sentences like the one you just finished reading. The other thing I do now that I never did before is edit; in college, when I was ostensibly a writer, I hated to look at words after I had put them down on paper. Statements would dribble out, thoughts would be “a bit” of this and “perhaps” that, lacking persuasive force the whole way down. And don’t even get me started with the non-copyedit errors—sentences that I rewrote from the midway point but didn’t fully delete or cohere together. No, I am not sure why I was considered a good collegiate writer, or at least why my favorite Lit Theory professor told me I was; she wouldn’t sign my academic recommendation for law school, saying it was a waste of my time, but wrote me a glowing one for graduate school. Perhaps she simply wanted another body committed to the closed ecosystem of academic purgatory. How to think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. That’s a hefty statement. It really is. Maybe, looking further down the cover, you recognize the author as the film critic that Samuel L. Jackson called out for smashing up The Avengers. I didn’t, or at least I didn’t until he mentioned it himself, and then I only had that moment of “Yeah, that sounds right, I think I probably remember that” that you get when it doesn’t really matter if you remember it or not. Cousin to, “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of this band before…” perhaps the most pointless sentence to exist in the English language. And yes, I do in fact underline all titles that I reference. I am aware that it is not the standard, but I try to at least be internally consistent with myself. And let me tell you why I do it here—hyperlinks. Often, when I’m citing a book or a website or anything that has a comprehensive youtube video, I’ll add the link. It is good practice for light html—< a href=" > and all that. That I never liked coding because it was so finicky—one typo and the whole thing grinds to a halt—is both astutely factual and a comprehensive metaphor for my past edit-free ethos. But the hyperlink, which is a surprisingly sturdy name that survived long after similarly cyberpunky terms—“the net,” “jacked in”—have fallen away, is the tautological hyperlink blue and, is, of course, underlined. Hyperlink blue, which you may remember from the Pantone article embedded in my review of Fear and Clothing...why no, I didn’t even think of linking straight to the article. That would probably make sense, and yet, and yet, and yet...is it nepotism to want to pass available work to a past version of yourself, through yourself a few bonus links here or there? C’est la vie...So, the hyperlink blue of written text I cannot do anything about. But underlining, hyperlink-style? That I can, and do, mimic. It is less grotesque than that bizarre purplish of the direct advertising links that I sometimes see and haven’t bothered to decipher, and while it breaks with APA and Chicago Style it is more cohesive in the modern always-on landscape of today. “Modern, always-on landscape of today” is both redundant and nonsensical but contains the essence and more importantly the cadence of techodeterminism that I was shooting for—style occasionally takes precedence over substance. As long as you don’t point it out to the percentage of readers that didn’t notice. Were you one of them, that ground to a halt in that sentence, decided I was a nitwit and completely stopped reading, blissfully unaware I would be commiserating with you had you read but a single line further? Did you know I spelled both “occasionally” and “precedence” incorrectly? No, how could you, I went back and fixed them before you had a chance to notice. But honestly, I didn’t even try, just allowed spellcheck to pick it up. I also misspelled “precedence” the second time, adding an “n” before the “d,” which seems to just be a mechanical function of the way I type and not something about how I hold the word within my brain. How strange it all is, when you think about it. What time is it there, for you? I’m drinking coffee and a gentle but steady rain is silent and invisible against the skylight above me; I only know it is still raining because I can see it out the window. Is it raining where you are? Have you read this book already, or are you debating spending the money, spending the time? Are you checking reviews because you had to read it for a class and you want the CliffsNotes, or are you planning on assigning it to your students? Are you gauging market saturation, seeing who found it and who is engaged with it for the publisher, the advertisers, Goodreads, Amazon, Google? Why are you reading this review, my friend, and are you considering me—sitting somewhere while it is raining, drinking from my bird mug, listening to Lykke Li—while you do it? Who am I to you, to tell you about this book, really? But back to the author; whom is he trying to tweak with the subtitle? The built-in audience of those that knew “Mace Windu had called [him] out!”? This is my only quote, I promise, I do. It is true as of right now, as it was true when I wrote it, and also still true while I make my first pass at editing that it is my only quote. I cannot say whether it will remain so by the time this review ends. And now, on my second and likely final full review, it holds steady. So have faith, past me, present you, future us. To answer the question I wrote myself days but you are about to experience, no, it isn’t, at least not yet. So is it a lie, or no? Does the truth need to be quantified when I publish, or write, or both? Or edit, he adds from the future past. Put another way, I am listening to music right now as I write this. But not as I re-write it, because now it is silent and only my clock and the sound of the neighbors on their patio and the birds and the planes and my keystrokes make any sounds. The song was different from the song cited above; Lykke Li is on now, during editing but not drafting, and it is now days after I originally wrote the words that I was listening to music. Now I am editing, and before I was writing, but both times I was listening to music and both times they were different from each other. Yet I probably won’t be listening to music when you read this part. Or when I read it myself during edit number three, and maybe while I tweak it a little. Lie? It is “irrelevant.” Maybe it is one way to think about art, pleasure, beauty, and truth. Probably not a good way. Or perhaps the only way. This self-indulgent ramble has no point. Art for art’s sake, if you want to be pretentious or false or obfuscatory, which is not a word according to my spellcheck but is, in fact, real. Spellcheck, also, is apparently false to the spellcheck, which I find mildly tragic. So, what’s the point, Dinaburg? Well, I liked this book. The subtitle irked me, but not in the standard way of over-promising and under-delivering that I am so keen to decry; no, it irked me because it was meant to irk me, and—similar to how correctly pronouncing forte will make you sound like a dummy to most people—not being irked, or not acting irked, feels like you’re asking for someone to come and explain to you why you should be irked. Trying to explain what this book is about makes me, probably you too, sound pretentious: “A critical look at cultural critique, by the pop-cultural critic’s desk of New York City’s very own Grey Lady…” barf barf barf. Is the pushback part of our culture of anti-intellectualism, a requisite offshoot of populism, a negative outcome of capitalist pandering? That’s too much actual criticism for me, for here, for now. I don’t give it away for free. The book isn’t pretentious, though, not to me. That sounded incredibly relativistic. It isn’t pretentious, period. Oh. Well, now I do sort of sound pretentious, commanding from on high that the book is or isn’t something, just because I liked it. Shit. Um, it’s a thought exercise, a chummy chat with a person who spends a lot of time thinking about what he does, what life is about, why things are the way they are. Now it sounds both trivial and hackneyed. It is a deep dive, a how to, a...well, I guess I don’t really know what it is. You want to know if you should just go read it yourself? Look, reader, I don’t know you. You don’t know me, beyond that I ramble and I like coffee and birds and Swedish pop sensation Lykke Li. How can I tell you whether to read it? More importantly, why would I tell you what to do? Read it or not, I dunno. This just isn’t the kind of review that bosses you around. But I liked the book. And hey look, I didn’t use any more quotes! Good for me for keeping the promise made to the ghost of you paragraphs, hours, days, weeks ago. I am or was as surprised you are or were.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dan'l Danehy-oakes

    Subtitled, "How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth", but nowhere near as prescriptive as that sounds. A.O. Scott is a movie critic for the _New York Times_, who takes this opportunity to clarify, mystify, justify, and condemn what he does for a living. Using examples from throughout the history of criticism, Scott outlines what criticism is, but never comes closer than an outline because, he seems to say, it is not really defineable. If I were to forcibly extract a definition from th Subtitled, "How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth", but nowhere near as prescriptive as that sounds. A.O. Scott is a movie critic for the _New York Times_, who takes this opportunity to clarify, mystify, justify, and condemn what he does for a living. Using examples from throughout the history of criticism, Scott outlines what criticism is, but never comes closer than an outline because, he seems to say, it is not really defineable. If I were to forcibly extract a definition from this book, it would be something like this: "The articulation of a response to a work of art." But that leaves "art" equally undefined, so we can simply describe it as "that to which critics respond". Is it circular? Yes. Does that make it bad? No. Scott seems to be suggesting that Criticism and Art are yin and yang, mutually creative enterprises, in dialogue, each impossible without the other. Indeed, any work of any art is by implication a critique of at least _some_ of what has gone before, and the more "original" it is the more it criticizes its predecessors; and any criticism worth reading is, itself, a contribution to an ongoing dialog, an art form that criticizes all art forms, including itself. He also states quite clearly that, as the adage goes, "everybody's a critic." Which is true: whenever you talk about a painting you've seen, a movie you've watched, music you've heard, books you've read, you are doing criticism, meaning, you are a critic. So why do some people get paid for doing what "everybody" does? Scott doesn't really address this question directly, but makes some suggestions about what a responsible critic should be. In six chapters and several "dialogues" - more in the way of semi-hostile self-interviews than of Socratic exchanges - Scott discusses the activities and duties of a critic - including the duty to be wrong. (No, I am _not_ going to explain that, you'll have to read the chapter yourself.) Can you, he asks, criticize Nature? Why or why not? What does it mean to criticize something like a tree - or does it mean anything at all? Does criticism mean anything without its subject being, in some sense, intentional? (Which, for a theist like myself, suggests that science is a form of criticism seeking to understand the work and mind of the One Artist.) Scott discusses the history and philosophy of criticism, all on a level that a non-professional-critic can easily follow, using examples ranging from Rainer Marie Rilke and Edward Wilson, to _The Avengers_ and _Ratatouille_. Scott's review of _The Avengers_ roused the wrath of Samuel L. Jackson, leading to a rather amusing online feud. Near the end of the book, he discusses in detail the critic in _Ratatouille_, Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole), cogently and coherently suggesting that, rather than a secondary villain in the piece, Ego is in fact a secondary hero. Some people, like me, will find this book both entertaining and enlightening. Others will find it boring. You can probably tell which you are by your reaction to the title and subtitle ... you critic, you.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sean Wicks

    How is this for irony, rating a book that is about criticism. New York Times critic A.O. Scott dissects the art, the act and the overall being of a critic and why they exist at all. One could say we are all critics as we consume culture and veer towards what we like and veer away from things we don't. Scott seems to be battling himself in these pages, always questioning why this job exists in the first place but makes a very solid case as to why a critic does what they do. I give this only 3 stars How is this for irony, rating a book that is about criticism. New York Times critic A.O. Scott dissects the art, the act and the overall being of a critic and why they exist at all. One could say we are all critics as we consume culture and veer towards what we like and veer away from things we don't. Scott seems to be battling himself in these pages, always questioning why this job exists in the first place but makes a very solid case as to why a critic does what they do. I give this only 3 stars as there are these awkward chapters which are a Q&A format of Scott being quizzed and called out about the chapters before them, and this technique, while original, doesn't really seem to accomplish much but to bring essentially the whole thesis into question - which is the intention, I'm just not sure it worked all that well for me. Kudos to Scott for using RATATOUILLE as an example throughout the book. That film, and it's understanding of culture, striving for excellence and the importance of well-thought-out and educated criticism, is an underrated masterpiece in the Pixar filmography. Scott's assessment of the theme and purpose of this film is spot-on.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Faulstich

    A bit of a drag in chapters, AO appears trying to work out for himself what his role as a critic is and its value. Failing towards relativism, the references and hand wringing are for the most part stimulating and provide good guides to the groundwork of his philosophy. Took me quite a while to finish, but a worthy read for those interested in the role of the critic, much more so than those interested in film.

  26. 5 out of 5

    George

    Do you review things? For fun or profit? This is an interesting insight into why we criticise as we do. It can get a little circular 'whatever critics do is criticism', but move beyond that to differentiate what critics do compared to rotten tomatoes or other aggregators. And our unsteady relationship with art. What do we add to the world? While it didn't change my world, it allowed me to consider what the hell I'm doing reviewing books etc. Enjoyable read. Do you review things? For fun or profit? This is an interesting insight into why we criticise as we do. It can get a little circular 'whatever critics do is criticism', but move beyond that to differentiate what critics do compared to rotten tomatoes or other aggregators. And our unsteady relationship with art. What do we add to the world? While it didn't change my world, it allowed me to consider what the hell I'm doing reviewing books etc. Enjoyable read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dan Weiskopf

    [Crossposted here from https://wordsandobjects.net/2017/01/1...] There is a minor genre of books bemoaning the state of contemporary criticism. According to most of them, the “crisis” in criticism is internal or self-inflicted: it comes from critics who have lost interest in making judgments, or perhaps who only know how to make the wrong kinds of judgments. A. O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism is a departure from this narrative, but a vexing one. As a guide to understanding the material [Crossposted here from https://wordsandobjects.net/2017/01/1...] There is a minor genre of books bemoaning the state of contemporary criticism. According to most of them, the “crisis” in criticism is internal or self-inflicted: it comes from critics who have lost interest in making judgments, or perhaps who only know how to make the wrong kinds of judgments. A. O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism is a departure from this narrative, but a vexing one. As a guide to understanding the material conditions behind criticism’s present woes, it falls short. But his positive vision of criticism opens up some interesting and neglected theoretical avenues. The book is pitched as a defense of criticism. But against whom, or what? A defense requires a set of fairly determinate challengers and charges to be rebutted. Scott offers neither of these. Instead, he wanders through a series of essays that offer nuggets of erudition on loosely related topics in the (recent) history and reception of criticism. He cites a number of previous writers and theorists (Kant, Sontag, Henry James, Yvor Winters, Edmund Wilson) who comprise strands of the critical genealogy that he wants to recover, but these figures are only laid beside one another, never woven together. Scott’s main opponent, as the book’s dialogue chapters suggest, seems to be himself. Read this way, the book is a therapeutic exercise, an attempt to quiet his own skeptical worries about the value of what he is paid to do. A book about criticism written in the form of confessional self-analysis might be an interesting conceit if pursued seriously and at length, but Scott lets his doubts remain flickering and unfocused, cloaked in amusing self-deprecation. It’s telling that the actual objections that arise in the text scarcely merit a response. For instance, an entire chapter humorously dissects popular representations of the critic’s personality, but does anything seriously need to be said in response to conversation-stopping claims that critics are jealous elitists or meanspirited parasites? In any case, what is actually driving Scott’s writing is not trifling complaints like these, but a partially articulated anxiety about the zeitgeist as a whole, the constellation of trends and forces slowing eroding the standing of criticism within the intellectual culture at large. Fragments of what could have been the book’s main argument are scattered throughout the text, in the passages where Scott comments on how the public space for critical discourse is being swamped by creeping Yelpification, the spread of amateur reviewing on blogs and other platforms, and the algorithmic generation of recommendation lists and consumer taste profiles. All of these are means of directing our attention to some cultural products rather than others, and therefore potential usurpers of the critic’s role: namely, to transmit their own sense of what is interesting and worthwhile, thereby saving otherwise neglected works from being swept away on the rapids of history. From such materials one could muster an argument that criticism is becoming hopelessly dispersed by the churning eddies of capital. It’s true, after all, that cultural and market forces have decimated the traditional newspaper and magazine criticism that Scott is so plainly wistful for. Prestige publications like the Times and the New Yorker continue to employ full-time critics, but the majority of writers are freelancers, working ad hoc for venues that are often digital, ephemeral, and low-paying. This sketch of the dispersed, precarious conditions under which art criticism is produced suggests that a materialist analysis of criticism needs to go beyond the simple terms in which Scott couches it. It would need to address who writes criticism and under what conditions of production, who pays (or doesn’t pay) to publish it, who its actual or intended audience is, and what measurable influence it has in shaping tastes, reputations, and markets. It’s telling that these basic questions receive no discussion in Scott’s work. As Manuel Betancourt points out, Scott’s paradigms of critical authorship are frequently white and male, which certainly fails to reflect the diversity of contemporary art writing. Similarly, the audiences and expected impact for a review in Artforum, a scholarly essay in October, a post on e-flux, and a column in the New York Times are far from the same. Even lumping these writings together as if they belonged to a single practice called “criticism” may be a mistake. In all of this, it’s important to separate three possible senses in which it might be sensible to talk about a critical crisis. The first is the sort of crisis in publishing described above, in which legacy industries are swept aside, reformed, and possibly replaced. The second is a crisis of authority, in which competing voices from outside of the traditional mainstream attempt to elbow their way into the discourse. This is related to the crisis in publishing, since the decline of these mainstream outlets that has given these outsiders more visibility, but it centers more on worries about amateurism versus professionalism and the source of critical credentials and authority. Finally, there is a crisis of writing. This is the locus of the familiar charge that critics have become more interested in description and self-expression than in making finely honed judgments about artistic quality. This is the form of the crisis that was most often discussed in the first recent wave of crisis mongering, but it bears no intrinsic relationship to the other two (although a case could be made that the rise of “contemporary art English” does). In any case, if the threats to criticism are mainly driven by changes in the broader publishing landscape, a book like Scott’s, for all its merits, can’t possibly be the cure. Large-scale and mutually reinforcing technological, institutional, economic, and social transitions are deaf to paeans to the value of critical discourse, even when they are couched in such lively, learned, and inquisitive prose as his. These problems are, at the moment, receiving a lot of discussion—witness, for instance, the SuperScript conference held at the Walker Art Center in May, 2015, at which a number of open possibilities for the future of art writing were debated. Still, I want to put them aside for now and close by returning to a systematic ambiguity in how Scott understands the concept of criticism. Often he means it to be a purely professional designation, as when he is focusing on the different roles that academics and journalists play in the critical ecosystem. At other times, though, he sees criticism not as a publicly conducted writing practice with a specific origin and history, but in more universal terms, as a kind of mental act; perhaps even as coextensive with thought itself. While criticism in the first sense may be near extinction, in the latter sense it is deathless, manifest everywhere. In this expansive understanding, Scott claims not only (1) that criticism is an art, but also (2) that art depends on criticism for its health and progress, and finally (3) that art itself is also criticism. Of course, the terms of this syllogism are slippery and self-undermining. If art is criticism, then it’s not clear why criticism as a separate artform is necessary—presumably whatever critical impetus is needed to keep art changing and progressing could be provided by the inner critical resources of artists themselves. In fact, this seems obviously true, since art criticism as it is written now is a set of highly contingent practices. Whatever origin point one picks out for it (Pliny, Vasari, Diderot, etc.), it is clear both that these modes of writing have waxed and waned over time and also that they are only one force among many shaping the trajectory of art. Weak periods for criticism can nevertheless produce extremely strong art. In any case, the health of a certain form of writing is not the same as the persistence of a mode of thought. The book’s most suggestive ideas concerning the relationship between the two are (1) and (3). Consider the idea that criticism itself is an artform. Near the book’s end, Scott settles on a definition of criticism as the act of paying close attention to an object of interest, and of making these acts of attention interesting to others. Criticism is a mechanism for expressing and transmitting interest. This communicative conception clearly ties in with the social function of critics as cultural salvage operators (what Orit Gat calls a “service” or “discovery-oriented” practice). There is much more to say about how this incompletely sketched account of critical practice relates to others, and of whether it can plausibly be regarded as an art in its own right. Finally, consider the idea that all art is, in some way, a form of criticism. For Scott, criticism can be of anything that a person can be interested in, a property that is presumably shared by art itself. So insofar as an artwork has any sort of subject matter of interest, and involves the attempt to make the scrutiny of that object interesting to an audience, that artwork counts as criticism by this definition. Presumably this captures what is going on in many works—even if it might seem odd to say that they are pieces of criticism. I can imagine objecting that this inclusiveness shows that there must be something wrong with Scott’s notion of criticism after all. Instead, though, I want to consider whether it opens up the possibility that artworks might constitute art criticism in particular. This can’t be true of all of them, since even if all art contributes to an endless conversation with other works, they aren’t part of the direct subject matter of every work. But many works do take others as part of their subject matter, whether to comment on them as art historical precedents, or to consciously cite the history of the medium, or to parody other artists, or to best their achievements. In all of these cases, the work produced may achieve its own interest in part because of how it engages with and comments on its predecessors and contemporaries. The idea of visual, or at least non-verbal, art criticism is one that has little theoretical precedent, but I’ll be returning to it in future posts, particularly to cases of images that criticize texts. It’s a virtue of Scott’s broad understanding of criticism that it liberates it from writing and thereby gives us the tools to make sense of these ekphrastic reversals.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jen McDermott

    This was an enjoyable read, mainly for the artistic examples and opinions on them A. O. Scott imparts but I often felt like I was at a very pretentious dinner party that I hadn't done the homework for. This was an enjoyable read, mainly for the artistic examples and opinions on them A. O. Scott imparts but I often felt like I was at a very pretentious dinner party that I hadn't done the homework for.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Simone

    That I am trying to write a review of a book about criticism is not lost on me. There were parts of this that I really enjoyed (there are sections written in the form of a question and answer session) and parts of it that I enjoyed less than others. I tend to agree that well written criticism is a thing that society needs. Still the needle that always remains hard to thread, as someone who watches a lot of stuff, and reads a lot of stuff, is that people are always less thrilled by long descripti That I am trying to write a review of a book about criticism is not lost on me. There were parts of this that I really enjoyed (there are sections written in the form of a question and answer session) and parts of it that I enjoyed less than others. I tend to agree that well written criticism is a thing that society needs. Still the needle that always remains hard to thread, as someone who watches a lot of stuff, and reads a lot of stuff, is that people are always less thrilled by long descriptions of inter-textual references, or the sociological concerns at the heart of the movie, and they namely want two questions answered: "is it good?" and "should I spend money/time to see it?" I have all but stopped answering the first question when people ask and usually the answer to the second question is: yes, sure. Because I think you should read and see as much as you can. Consuming art in any form, I think, makes us better humans. Storytelling is like air, we need it in large quantities. Or as A.O. Scott puts it: "The best practices are also the worst vices. The obvious and egregious crimes of haste and hackishness - the puffed-up adjectives, baseless assertions, and slippery syntax that used to fill up the arts sections of newspapers, and now bloat the Internet - are symptoms of just how difficult criticism is, how elusive its goals and how paradoxical its principles. That these would seem to be elementary - describe what you see; tell us it it's any good - is the source of the difficulty." The same could be said for book reviews. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but if your interested in criticism and writing, I highly recommend it. Many thanks to Penguin Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this title, though I didn't end up getting it reviewed in time. All opinions are mine.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Haley

    For all his commentary on how essential argument is to criticism, the point of each essay is not communicated well (this could be a byproduct of the abstraction of most of the essays or a byproduct of the author's inherent unwillingness to make definitive statements). This became especially obvious to me in the dialogue chapters (in which the author imagines a dialogue with a critical version of himself) where he would make an assertion (e.g., that his theory of taste is "grounded in spontaneous For all his commentary on how essential argument is to criticism, the point of each essay is not communicated well (this could be a byproduct of the abstraction of most of the essays or a byproduct of the author's inherent unwillingness to make definitive statements). This became especially obvious to me in the dialogue chapters (in which the author imagines a dialogue with a critical version of himself) where he would make an assertion (e.g., that his theory of taste is "grounded in spontaneous encounters, in the erotic bliss that erupts... when beauty catches you unawares") that I had not gleaned at all from his discussion in the preceding chapter. The dialogues themselves were similarly not great at communicating his argument, as he rarely actually answered the questions he posed at himself. There were a lot of interesting thoughts and worthwhile tidbits in this work ("Eye of the Beholder" was my favorite chapter by far), they just weren't compiled into anything that managed to convey or support a point. Despite the title (and sub-title), this book is just a collection of essays on criticism (and never really relates criticism to your life in a substantive way), and I would really only recommend it to someone who was already reading about criticism (and even then I'm sure there are books on the subject more worth your time).

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.