Monday, May 21, 2007

Are We Cultish?

Richard Schickel, pictured above, wrote an article in Sunday's LA Times titled "Not Everybody's A Critic" in which - after coming off like a pompous ass - he takes the following stab at PKD:

"I don't think it's impossible for bloggers to write intelligent reviews. I do think, however, that a simple "love" of reading (or movie-going or whatever) is an insufficient qualification for the job. That way often leads to cultishness (see the currently inflated reputations of Philip K. Dick or Cornell Woolrich, both easy reads for lazy, word-addicted minds)."

It is Schickel's extremely classicist view that only those thoroughly versed in Literature as a discipline, with a specialty in a given author's work or a specific time period, have any business writing book reviews. Part of me agrees with him. I mean look at all the recent PKD articles about the Library of America release: they're passionless, pre-fab hacks put together from press kits. The reviews in both the New York Times and Newsweek failed to add a single iota of insight into Dick's work other than to announce that Dick was now a serious author, or at least that's what they'd heard.

Schickel continues:

"Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmakers or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities."

Richard, Richard, Richard. Believe it or not some bloggers have all the qualities you've mentioned. If only I could say that same for you. Anyone with a fairly deep sense of the Philip K Dick's entire body of work would be amazed by your characterization of his writing as "easy." But perhaps I am being too quick in my judgement; perhaps your longer more thoughtful works display the kind of supreme and objective competence you clearly hold so dear.

Or not. From a review of Schickel's biography of Clint Eastwood:

"...If you want an objective biography of Eastwood, together with an objective analysis of his film work, this is not the book you want. Schickel was basically an employee and friend of Eastwood during the researching and writing of the book, and he tends to ignore or downplay the dark side of Eastwood's activities, particularly his alleged "women are like kleenex" philosophy, and his alleged cruelty toward former collaborators."


Anonymous said...

If Schickel is an example of the 'elite', then professional criticism and journalism are in more trouble than I previously thought.

Anonymous said...

A bit of irony here in the light of Schickel's comments - check out this page at mentioned on the PKD bookshelf site. It reviewis the Library of America collection and was written by "a reporter on Bloomberg's legal team..."

Gabriel Mckee said...

"...individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book."

"...a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmakers or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities."

I sense some irony here!

Duncan Lawson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duncan Lawson said...

I agree with Schickel about the qualities of a reviewer and a writer. Good writing takes a lot of polish, and blogging tends to be quick writing with very little editing. My blogging is not only quick, but it's also done on the sly at work, which makes for mistakes and hazy logic sometimes.

What I find strange about the article is his belief on a reviewer rarely gives a direct opinion, and then he gives a direct opinion on PKD. Do as I say and not as I do?

Anonymous said...

There's a hell of a lot of 'good writing' done quickly and without edits, of course.

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