Lecturas recientes

Actualmente estoy leyendo a dos fascinantes historiadores del siglo XX, Tony Judt y Fritz Stern. Del primero estoy leyendo [amazon ASIN=”0226414183″]The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century[/amazon]; del segundo, [amazon ASIN=”0520026268″]The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology[/amazon]. Continue reading “Lecturas recientes”

25 Years after the Fall of the ‘Uncivil’ Society

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Actors Ulrich Mühe and Johanna Schall speaking at Alexanderplatz on November 4, 1989. (Wikimedia Commons)

I still remember how disappointed I was that Wednesday of November in 1989 when the Wall finally came down. Of course, I was not disappointed because of the falling of the Wall per se, since the latter was undoubtedly a tribute to human stupidity and should have never been built in the first place, but for a more personal reason… that I wasn’t there! Continue reading “25 Years after the Fall of the ‘Uncivil’ Society”

El (in)cierto destino del ensayo

Impresora bajo demanda en el local de Archive.org en San Francisco, California, EEUU. Disponible bajo la licencia GFDL vía Wikimedia Commons.

En un artículo publicado recientemente por The Guardian, Sam Leith, editor literario del Spectator, arguye que si bien la calidad de los ensayos publicados por las grandes casas editoriales ha disminuido en años recientes, hay sin embargo razones para ser optimistas sobre el futuro de este género, particularmente de la mano de editoriales universitarias como Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton y Chicago. La razón, según Leith, es que la mayoría de las casas comerciales se han concentrado más que nada en producir libros monotemáticos — libros de “grandes ideas”, como él los llama —, a los que él describe de este modo: Continue reading “El (in)cierto destino del ensayo”

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Poster for Monsieur Verdoux (1947) – Wikimedia Commons

A few days ago I watched Charlie Chaplin’s clever and somehow sinister comedy Monsieur Verdoux (1947).[1. Available on Hulu.com as part of its Criterion Collection section.] As you may know, the movie is the story of Henri Verdoux — a.k.a. Varnay, a.k.a. Bonheur, a.k.a. Floray— a grayish bank teller who begins a career as “mass murderer” after being laid off from his job of thirty years.[1. Curiously, the story is based on actual events, the life of the “Bluebeard” murderer, Henri Landru.] Continue reading “Monsieur Verdoux (1947)”

Žižek… The Plagiarist!

A quick follow up on my previous post on Žižek’s alleged case of plagiarism. First, several bloggers have picked up the story, from Slate‘s Rebecca Schuman to NPR’s Annalisa Quinn and Gawker‘s Michelle Dean. Žižek himself wrote to Critical Inquiry — the original publisher of the transgressive essay— a full “Clarification,” blaming the mishap on some sloppy “friend” who provided him with a summary of Stanley Hornbeck’s review of Macdonald’s book at the time when he was writing his. Continue reading “Žižek… The Plagiarist!”

El capital del siglo xxi

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Thomas Piketty dando una charla en el seminario “Pour une Révolution Fiscale”, 28 abril 2011. Foto Parti Socialiste du Loire – Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

La tesis central del libro El capital en el siglo veintiuno del economista francés Thomas Piketty es muy simple.[1. En este comentario nos referiremos a la edición inglesa: [amazon ASIN=”B00I2WNYJW”]Capital in the Twenty-First Century[/amazon], Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014.] Continue reading “El capital del siglo xxi”

Octavio Paz y la crítica

De Octavio Paz nos dice J. Agustín Pastén, en su excelente monografía sobre la labor crítica del poeta mexicano, que el mismo es un “crítico practicante en busca de una poética”. En Pastén resuena, a su vez, la propuesta del crítico uruguayo Emir Rodríguez Monegal quien en otro ensayo — también sobre la labor crítica del poeta mexicano — sugiere que la suya, la de Paz, es un ejemplo de “crítica hecha por el creador”; en otras palabras, de “crítica de practicantes”. Continue reading “Octavio Paz y la crítica”

Las metáforas y las asentaderas

Hay una frase o mal chiste en castellano que dice algo como: ¿qué tiene que ver el culo con las pestañas? La frase se usa generalmente para cuestionar la validez de una analogía o para enfatizar que el tema al que alguien hace referencia en una discusión no tiene nada que ver con el tema discutido. Como chiste, el mismo es un ejemplo de esos chistes-pregunta donde a la pregunta impertinente le corresponde la respuesta sardónica: “los dos tienen pelos”. Por cierto, una amiga epidemióloga me comentó alguna vez que de hecho sí existe una conexión entre las dos partes del cuerpo, cierto parásito que era compartido por las vellosidades presentes en ambas regiones. En todo caso, mi interés al mencionar esta frase no es humorístico (al menos no totalmente) ni fisiológico. Mi interés es crítico. Continue reading “Las metáforas y las asentaderas”

The Critic as Clown

Clown 1910Thinking about the Chomsky-Žižek controversy — see previous post 1 and post 2 on this topic — in which the American called the Slovenian a “clown”, I’ve been wondering whether we should consider the words ‘critic’ and ‘clown’ as complementary rather than exclusionary. Then I recalled that Terry Eagleton did actually explore a similar idea in an old essay on William Empson’s Some Versions of Pastoral, part of his excellent collection Against the Current.[1. See “The Critic as Clown,” Against the Current. Selected Essays (London: Verso, 1991), págs. 149-165.] Continue reading “The Critic as Clown”

Criticism and Dvořák

Continuing on my research about the crisis of criticism, I’ve just finished reading an essay by pianist Sarah Rothenberg on criticism in the world of music.[1. “Measuring the Immeasurable,” in Maurice Berger, ed.,The Crisis of Criticism (The New York: New Press, 1998), pp. 147-168.] Rothenberg begins her essay describing a visit of Antonín Dvořák to America in 1892. The event, that included Dvořák’s premier of his “From the New World” Symphony, was reviewed by New York Daily Tribune‘s music critic Henry Krehbiel.[2. See also a commentary on Krehbiel’s article by Michael Beckerman: “Henry Krehbiel, Antonín Dvořák, and the Symphony ‘From the New World’,” Notes 49.2 (Dec., 1992), pp. 447-473.] What stroke Rothenberg the most about the review was the fact that it included “fourteen musical examples, with a total of eighty bars of music” (148). She explains:

The presence of excerpts from an orchestral score quoted freely in a daily sold on streetcorners speaks eloquently of a defined relationship between critic and reader, composer and audience, producer and consumer. While Americans were, for the first time, quite self-consciously attempting to put a distinctly American imprint on the European tradition of concert music (for the issue of American identity was a large part of Dvořák’s project in this country), there was nevertheless, quite unself-consciously, an accepted notion of the relevance of such discussion and an expectation of musical literacy for those who wished to enter into it. (148) [highlights are mine]

Rothenberg goes on explaining some of the reasons why such “musical literacy” was possible. For instance, she observes that up to probably the time of Dvořák’s visit, around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, most people only had two ways to enjoy music — either by making it by themselves or by being “in a room where someone else was making it” (149). And this could be said not only of music but of many other art forms. In fact, we don’t need to stretch the idea too much to include painting and, consequently, to connect her assessment with Benjamin’s essay on the lost of aura in industrially reproducible art.

I have always understood Benjamin’s idea of aura as a way to represent the experience of evaluating, of assessing value in artistic goods. Metaphorically Metonymically, the aura is a — somehow mystical, it’s true — way to account for that experience, to understand the economy of desires that connects producers and consumers of artistic goods through ‘use value’. In my view, a consequence of Benjamin’s analysis is the recognition that mechanically reproducible art creates recurrent bubbles that abruptly destabilizes that economy. Eventually, the effect of this loss of aura is an artistic market that is completely fetishized or commoditized.

What Rothenberg describes is a similar process. By introducing mechanically reproducible music, that auratic experience between listeners, performers, composers, and score is, as she describes so well, loss forever. But she goes beyond Benjamin, at least in my view. Why? Because she introduces into her analysis the role of the middlemen.  Critics are the middlemen in the economy of desires that operates in art. And although middlemen are usually associated with unscrupulous car salesmen or shark speculators, Rothenberg’s analysis demonstrates that despite all the bad imagery middlemen play an important role here. Good critics help leveling the  playing field without distorting it.

The function of the middlemen is to help the negotiating parties in understanding each other. In the economy of desires involved in art, it means negotiating between producer’s and consumer’s expectations about each transaction. Critics help both parties in agreeing on a common language to express their needs and wants, on what they bring to the negotiating table. The combination of industrialized art consumption and the disappearing of the critic brings as main consequence that both producers and consumers of art goods lack of a common language to articulate their needs and expectations other than the language of money — therefore the unavoidable fetishism. As Rothenberg remarks, modern consumers of music are incapable of understanding a piece’s score and therefore the only way they can assess value — on their auratic experience — is in terms of money or any of its proxys — such as ratings, sales, popularity, etc.

So, paraphrasing Rothenberg’s title, facing the dilemma of their inability to measure the immeasurable, contemporary art consumers are left with only one option: to measure the only measurable variable we have left, money. In another post I’m going to talk a little bit about this, the relationship between money and criticism.