An exploration of criticism, which “is not an enemy from which art must be defended, but rather another name—the proper name—for the defense of art itself.”
New York Times film critic Scott delivers an impassioned and deeply thoughtful defense of his vocation in this unusual tome—“unusual” in the sense that the author offers not a history of arts criticism, an account of his own evolution as a critic, or practical advice for aspiring critics, but rather an examination of the sources and functions of criticism itself. It’s perhaps a bit abstract and theoretical for the general film fan looking for pithy insights into the film reviewing game, but Scott is after something more rarified here. His position from the outset is defensive, as he acknowledges the antipathy many seem to feel toward critics, an attitude built on assumptions that critics hate pleasure, are motivated by artistic jealousy, and bring intellectual faculties to bear on material that doesn’t warrant such fussy academic attention. Criticism is often seen as an essentially parasitic endeavor, a vulturelike scavenging on the remains of someone else’s talent and effort. Scott argues—persuasively, bolstered by rigorous logic and observations about the work of such titanic figures as Aeschylus, Rilke, Kant, and Keats—that criticism not only works symbiotically with art, but is necessary for art to even exist and have meaning in the first place. Scott lays out a taxonomy of meaningful thought (and the meaning of thought itself), and if he occasionally ventures too far into dense theoretical thickets or indulges borderline-irritating gimmicks—e.g., a series of interviews conducted with himself is an overdone trope and too cute by half—his disciplined reasoning, impressive erudition, and deep commitment to his art (as he defines it) are never less than provocative and elegantly articulated.
A zealous and well-considered work of advocacy for an art too often unappreciated and misunderstood.