How to Write a Good Review

1. Introduction: The Problem

I take what I do seriously. When I sit down to write reviews and longer critical pieces, I am not filling in the time before dinner, I am doing something that I am emotionally invested in.  I am emotionally invested in becoming the best critic that I can possibly be, this is why I write and this is why I read books that add fresh elements to my theoretical arsenal. However, while I think that (all things considered) I am not doing too badly, I am very much aware that I am not yet Roland Barthes, David Bordwell, Nick Lowe or Adam Roberts.  In fact, I am not even Kim Newman or Armond White.  I know this because I know that these people write with a level of control and insight that I do not yet possess.  I also know this because I have yet to be invited to write a column for the New York Times… or even the Kensington and Chelsea Times for that matter.  But while I know that I am not yet quite there, I think that I could probably do a bit more cool stuff than I am currently doing. The problem is that every time that I produce something that I am particularly proud of, a hubris alert goes off in my head because I know that it is the easiest thing in the world to think that you’re brilliant when you are in fact shit.  In fact, there are studies that prove it.

 

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Aesthetic Authenticity and Not Being a Good Cultural Citizen

To say that humans are fond of self-delusion would be something of an understatement. Lacking the sort of all-encompassing social meta-narrative that delivers us a pre-packaged sense of place and identity, many of us choose to define ourselves through what we do. Some of us sing, some of us paint, some of us write and some of us have anonymous sex with multiple partners. We define ourselves not merely by doing these things but through a process of emotional investment whereby how well we are doing as individuals becomes intimately tied to how well we are doing at a particular activity.  This process of emotional investment offers us some respite from the postmodern condition but it is also a minefield of self-delusion.

The more commonly travelled path to self-delusion involves becoming so emotionally invested in your undertakings that you become blind to your own inadequacies. This generally results in a hideous Catch-22 whereby people are doomed to mediocrity by their unwillingness to recognise the areas that would benefit from more work. The more areas of human undertaking I rub up against, the more I become convinced that this sort of thinking is endemic to the human condition. We all like to think of ourselves as special snowflakes and snowflakes tend not to fare too well in the baking heat of self-doubt. This, however, is not the sort of self-delusion that I want to write about today.  I want to write about the need to be a good cultural citizen and to, as Dan Kois put it in a piece for the New York Times, “Eat Your Cultural Vegetables”.

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