Thursday, July 08, 2010

No accounting for taste

The Germans are the only people who currently make use of the word "aesthetic" in order to signify what others call the critique of taste. This usage originated in the abortive attempt made by [Alexander] Baumgarten, that admirable analytic thinker, to bring the critical treatment of the beautiful under rational principles, and so to raise its rules to the rank of a science. But such endeavors are fruitless. The said rules or criteria are, as regards their chief sources, merely empirical, and consequently can never serve as determinate a priori laws by which our judgment of taste must be directed.

-- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

I would like to pair the above quote with the following observation (they may or may not be related): the thing that irritates me most about professional critics is that they are often very good at explaining what there is to like or dislike about a given piece, and often not very good at considering why they like or dislike the thing they have categorized as likable or not likable.

What these folks do, essentially, is provide lists of descriptive qualities. Very rarely do they follow through and turn the critical lens back upon themselves, like so: Okay, this album has these characteristics. Why do I care about these characteristics? Or not?

As I say, I find this irritating. But perhaps I've got a bad reflexivity habit.

[photo credit: ibm4381]


ohdotoh said...

I will comment simply because I don't remember commenting on your blog.

Chimp said...

I don't think most critics know why they say what they do. They don't know enough about their own psychology, or even much of anything outside the realm of filmic notions and related aesthetic theory. It seems to me that standard film (or music, or art . . . where does it end?) criticism is framed in terms of other films, film technique, formal elements, history, and/or information about filmmakers. I don't think most critics how they use these elements to say something as much about themselves as about film, even in cases where conscious emotional reactions are part of the review.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Chimp, I completely agree. Again, criticism is usually a well-written list, sans any sense of why the things being listed should be deemed important.

ohdotoh, I appreciate the comment regardless of the motivation behind it!