Sunday, March 07, 2010

`A Particular Respect'

There’s a charm to informed inconsistency. It’s the happy opposite of system-building and the theory-driven will to Ordnung! we see in the young, angry and drifting. The painter Fairfield Porter once wrote in a review: “Discipline is sweetened by compromise” – anathema to critics who confuse opinions with scientific laws.

On Friday, David Myers posted an amusing and useful “10 rules for criticism,” including “...give up the dream of a system altogether. There is no general system or theory of literature; there are only particular texts, with their own particular system of law, which demand a particular respect.”

Uncommon common sense. How many critics work from a stance of “respect?” I would make one addition to David’s list:

(11.) Enjoy what you’re doing – the reading and the writing – and communicate that enjoyment to your reader. Even a thoroughgoing demolition job ought to be a pleasure.

On the same page as the sentence quoted above from Art in Its Own Terms: Selected Criticism 1935-1975, Porter writes:

“The value of conservatism is in direct relation to the sophistication of the artist.”

1 comment:

Levi Stahl said...

Leafing through Anthony Powell's notebook the other day, I found this: "Having no opinions is a positive advantage for a literary critic." I trust he meant it to be taken humorously, but there's also a truth there: best to find and form the opinions as you read, rather than bring them with you to the reading.