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."
This stunning treatise on criticism from New York Times film critic Scott is a complete success, comprehensively demonstrating the value of his art. His first major assertion is that criticism is indeed an art, and that "a work of art is itself a piece of criticism." From here he moves swiftly, with humor and insight, to show how art works hand in hand with critics' "activity of loving demystification." Scott ties criticism to philosophy, most compellingly citing Immanuel Kant's The Critique of Judgment, which asserts that "the judgment of taste... cannot be other than subjective." He is equally comfortable discussing Rainer Maria Rilke's sonnet "Archaic Torso of Apollo" and Marina Abramovic's performance art piece The Artist Is Present. His most striking observations come in a chapter entitled "How to Be Wrong," which Scott calls "the one job can actually, reliably, do." He states that "choosing is the primal and inevitable mistake of criticism" as well as "the gesture that calls it into being." Included are four "dialogues" in which Scott interviews himself, examining his assumptions and clarifying difficult points. This is a necessary work that may enter the canon of great criticism.