A. O. Scott’s ‘Better Living Through Criticism’

Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Times:

21subMENDELSOHN-blog427Was God the first critic?

We tend, of course, to think of him as the first great artist — or, perhaps, artiste. Certainly the Bible’s description of the circumstances in which Creation was created — the sudden flash of inspiration, the heroic decision to make something where there had been nothing, the struggle to wrest order out of chaos, the collapse into exhausted rest after a daemonic outpouring of energy — has colored our romantic notions about creativity and creators ever since. Just as it has, by implication, informed our ideas about critics: as parasites on the body of creativity, as destroyers rather than builders, “the snake in the garden,” as one eminent practitioner of the art of criticism has put it, “of what should be our simplest pleasures.”

And yet, as A. O. Scott — the critic in question — points out in the first chapter of his lively, often impassioned, occasionally breezy defense of a profession that many see as headed to extinction, the Almighty had barely finished creating when he started in on the activity that is central to criticism, which is judgment. (Scott likes to quote the Greeks, from the poet Hesiod to Plato to Aristotle, but omits to mention their most salient contribution to his subject, which is the word “critic” itself, derived from the verb “to judge.”) The author reminds us that following each stage of creation, God “saw that it was good.” The question that Scott, a chief movie critic for The New York Times, slyly raises is, “How did he know?”

More here.