Charles McGrath

Who isn’t a critic? We are born picky and judgmental, and as we get older we only become more opinionated and more sure of ourselves. Just look at all the bluster that passes for criticism these days on the Internet, where the guiding principle is that everyone has a right to air his own opinion, and that all opinions, just by being firmly held, are equally valid and important. Probably never in history has there been more suspicion of established or professional critics, or more self-­appointed arbiters clamoring to take their place.
How many of these voices are worth paying attention to is something else. If for a start we require that critics know what they’re talking about — that their judgments are actually informed — the field thins considerably, and if we also insist on taste and discernment, then the number of valuable and useful critics dwindles pretty drastically.

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2 Responses to Charles McGrath

  1. shinichi says:

    Is Everyone Qualified to Be a Critic?

    By Charles McGrath

    https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/books/review/is-everyone-qualified-to-be-a-critic.html

    If we insist on taste and discernment, then the number of valuable and useful critics dwindles pretty drastically.

    Who isn’t a critic? We are born picky and judgmental, and as we get older we only become more opinionated and more sure of ourselves. Just look at all the bluster that passes for criticism these days on the Internet, where the guiding principle is that everyone has a right to air his own opinion, and that all opinions, just by being firmly held, are equally valid and important. Probably never in history has there been more suspicion of established or professional critics, or more self-­appointed arbiters clamoring to take their place.

    How many of these voices are worth paying attention to is something else. If for a start we require that critics know what they’re talking about — that their judgments are actually informed — the field thins considerably, and if we also insist on taste and discernment, then the number of valuable and useful critics dwindles pretty drastically.

    A valuable critic is someone whose judgment you can rely on and learn from, which is not to say someone you always agree with. The great critic of my life was Pauline Kael (who deserves some renewed appreciation now that Renata Adler’s famous takedown of her is back in circulation). Like many of her fans, I disagreed with her at least half the time, but that seldom mattered. You didn’t read Kael to learn whether Movie X or Movie Y was worth going to — her passion for movies was such that she believed almost any movie, even a bad one, was worth seeing — but to learn how to think about that movie and how to examine your own feelings about it.

    Kael had passionate likes and dislikes — prejudices even — and was not shy about disclosing them. She didn’t see the point of Robert Redford, for example, and became meaner and meaner about him. She also had a stubborn, perplexingly high regard for the movies of Brian De Palma. But unlike so much of what you now read online, hers were not snap judgments. Her reviews were meant to begin discussions, not end them, and among her readers those discussions sometimes went on for weeks. I even knew couples who broke up over them. She would have deplored the way so many critics today have allowed themselves to become mere thumb-waggers, barely able to describe or evoke a work before rushing to a verdict, sometimes delivered so quickly and so emphatically that the reader has no reason to go beyond the first paragraph, or even the first sentence: “This vapid novel, this waste of wood pulp. . . .” Where do you go from there? Such reviews tend to make the same point over and over again, without considering, as Kael so often did, that even an inferior work can sometimes teach us something, and that how you arrive at an opinion is often more important than the opinion itself.

    Kael was also a terrific and inspiring writer, one of those critics you’d read no matter what they wrote about. It’s unreasonable to expect such flair and originality from everyone, but in deciding which critics are worth attending to, literary critics especially, we can at least insist on readability — on clearness of expression, some stylishness, and even a sense of humor. Criticism may be a minor art, but it’s an art all the same, and critical writing ought to be pleasing in itself and not just piggyback on whatever work it’s discussing.

    It’s surprising how much contemporary critical writing is a chore to get through, not just on blogs and in Amazon reviews but even in the printed paragraphs appearing below some prominent bylines, where you find too often the same clichés, the same tired vocabulary, the same humorless, joyless tone. How is it, you wonder, that people so alert to the flaws of others can be so tone deaf when it comes to their own prose? The answer may be the pressure of too many deadlines, or the unwritten law that requires bloggers and tweeters to comment practically around the clock. Or it may be that the innately critical streak of ours too frequently has a blind spot: ourselves.

  2. shinichi says:

    チャールズ・マクグラス(Charles McGrath)

    Google Translate
    誰が批評家ではない? 私たちは慎み深く、批判的に生まれている。年を重ねるにつれて、私たちはより多くの意見を持ち、自分自身を確信する。インターネット上で最近批判の対象となっている大騒ぎを見てみよう。指導原則は誰もが自分の意見を伝える権利を持っており、すべての意見は、堅固に保たれているだけでも同様に有効で重要だ。たぶん歴史の中で、有名な評論家やプロの批評家、あるいは自らを評論家や批評家という人の数は増えている。
    注意を払う価値のある声の数は何か他にもある。私たちが好みと識別力を主張するならば、価値ある有用な批評家の数はかなり大幅に減少する。

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