Wednesday, May 27, 2009

were postmods correct?

People mainly think arts criticism is the preserve of the effete upper classes, who cannot even make it in investment banking; hideous characters, like Batman villains who have not learned how to steal. This may or may not be accurate. We can argue against this negative picture that:

1. arts criticism is just a part of social criticism

2. Our Western Civilisation is heavily "artistic", judging by the resources devoted to the production and consumption of "art"

3. this mythology of social criticism still has to be accounted for - by social criticism

4. popular culture in the 90s wasn't so against it. (History is not just the present tacked onto an imaginary past, loosely based on 50s America)

(Social criticism was more acceptable in the 90s. This aspect of popular culture seems to have been deserted, to some extent, by other sections of popular culture, since popular culture is partly institutionally based, and the priorities of these institutions change, while some disappear. Antoine de Caunes is no longer on teevee. Probably people used to take more drugs in the 90s. Everyone wanted to be an "art terrorist", like Jean Baudrillard. It used to be that it was "kool" to know people who made electro concept albums, about corporal punishment in English Public Schools, for the Mo Wax record label. People still feared Japan, not China.)

A more serious indictment of arts criticism is: that identifying the "real" meaning of "works of art" is a false operation. For example, Lukacs identifies the nineteenth century naturalistic novel as being about reification. This wasn't the dominant impression for the producers or consumers of these novels, so isn't the theory a sort of imposture?

What Lukacs has done, or what I have tried to do, is to assume these "works of art" "reflect", more or less loosely, the concrete conditions in which they have been produced, not just economic events, of course, but memories, the weather, events lost to history. Criticism, then, ideally ought to run parallel to the "art" in "reflecting" these circumstances. That a great deal of guesswork is involved makes approximation and error inevitable. This method is, in principle, formaliseable, hence scientific. It has this advantage over "dominant response" criticism: if the dominant response to a "work of art" is that it's a scam, or just rubbish, or an aspect of our society's totalitarian tendency, this fails to account for its conditions of production.

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