criticism

Is the Critic a Parasite? On A. O. Scott’s ‘Better Living Through Criticism’

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“Our drive to create originates in — and compensates for — a primal feeling of alienation, of lostness in the universe and confusion about our identity,” New York Times film critic A. O. Scott writes in Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. If the title here implies self-help (and it wouldn’t be the first such book inspired by Rilke’s final injunction in “Archaic Torso of Apollo”), the tone of the above suggests pop psychoanalysis. Scott goes on: “Frequently aligned with that sense of our original inadequacy is, somewhat paradoxically, a perception of our subsequent decline.”
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Literature as a Chain Letter Among Friends: On the Fantasy of Critical Distance

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Over the weekend, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan lightly chided the editorial staff of the paper’s book review for a perceived imbalance in the way it chooses its reviewers. At issue is a question of intimacy or closeness. “How Close Is Too Close?” the article’s title asks (mirroring the oppressively Socratic form of the Review’s Bookends column). When a reviewer knows the book’s author, does this constitute a conflict of interest?
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Poetry as Criticism of Life: On Claudia Rankine’s Twin NBCC Nominations

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The slate of finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award is strong — perhaps as strong as any shortlist in recent memory. With its stalwarts and new blood, its willingness to rescue books that should have been nominated for other awards while remaining unafraid of recognizing established authors, the list, inasmuch as it is a cross section of American literature in 2014, shows a thriving organism.
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What Do We Even Want From Book Reviews Anymore?

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Slate’s Mark O’Connell has some issues with the Hatchet Job of the Year, an annual award the Omnivore has been giving out for three years to celebrate “the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review.” According to O’Connell, it isn’t only a bad thing because it “publicizes and rewards mediocre and shallow criticism by the kind of people who’ll shoot a baboon point-blank in the tits for their own amusement”; the award also “actively promotes such criticism, going out of its way to ensure that more of it gets written.”
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What’s Missing From the Smarm vs. Snark Debate: Honesty

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Yesterday, Tom Scocca lit up the ersatz (and real!) cultural-critic Internet with an essay called “On Smarm.” Hooked into the still-bubbling controversy over the appointment of Isaac Fitzgerald as Buzzfeed Books editor — a controversy that, for the record, I’ve already said I don’t think is of itself that big a deal — the piece is really a longer and deeper reflection about the role of snark in the world more generally. I mean, the essay has targets that run the gamut from Dave Eggers to Ari Fleischer to New Yorker film critic David Denby. And it makes many points, but the essential one is this:

Snark is often conflated with cynicism, which is a troublesome misreading. Snark may speak in cynical terms about a cynical world, but it is not cynicism itself. It is a theory of cynicism.

The practice of cynicism is smarm.

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Robin Givhan Talks Model Diversity, “Inner Swagger” in Reddit AMA

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Fashion critic Robin Givhan never lacks for quotability, whether she’s eviscerating Michelle Obama’s fashion choices for the Washington Post or breaking down Marc Jacobs’ latest collection for The Cut. So it’s unsurprising that Givhan’s Reddit AMA, in which she fielded questions on everything from runway diversity to the essentials of a collegiate wardrobe, is as full of candid, concise prose as any of her reviews. Below, our roundup of the highlights from Givhan’s Q&A, which focused on fighting systemic racism in the fashion industry as much as Givhan’s personal experiences as a renowned critic. It includes her instructing a 30-year-old man to “find your inner swagger,” so needless to say, we highly recommend a quick read. Here are the highlights.

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