More on Critical Thinking

eloieli didn’t simply take me at face value. He critically engaged with my post on Critical Thinking and had a few interesting things to say. I suggest you read the comments for the full picture, but really broadly, the discussion has gone on along these lines:

What Goethe and I are essentially proposing is a relativistic standard of criticism. Relativism has a few problems, as well as a few benefits. Broadly, if followed to it’s limit, it engenders anarchy, where no judgement is available because we have no points of reference or standards of comparison. However, the up-side is that is allows you to get some utility from distinctly imperfect works, and to get a deeper understanding of specific works in isolation.

The second, and probably more important for our purposes, strand is whether enjoyment is obviated by investigation. It is largely this question which I address in the post below. The basic argument is that if you interact with an imperfect work in a superficial way, you are less aware of its flaws and hence more able to enjoy it.

————–

If I applied the standard you supplied all I would see is the flaws and weakness of it.

Would you? Surely another perspective on this is that you would know what you liked about it? I’m not sure why you’re automatically construing more information as deleterious to your enjoyment. Perhaps because you’re trying to analyse the work as if it were Shakespeare, rather than as a Hollywood Blockbuster?

I would even contend the opposite: that a bit of critical thinking can rescue a bad experience. After leaving, say, The Phantom Menace I felt like George Lucas had spat in my face. So I sat down and thought about it. I chatted to people about it. I re-watched the original movies… and I eventually concluded that, sadly, it could have been a good movie. Certainly my hind brain animal response is still not terribly favourable, but I am far more sympathetic to the intent of the movie, and far less angry about it.

I think that there are almost no movies that I’ve had a positive gut reaction to that I haven’t been able to look at in greater detail and find more things I liked. Sure, sometimes I find bad stuff too: but that doesn’t erase my positive initial experience, it tempers it.

Assuming for a moment though that even a relativistic analysis would in some way diminish your enjoyment, isn’t the correct response to demand movies in that style that perfectly execute their own agendas? I’d point here to something like Pirates: Curse of the Black Pearl. If everyone in the world had simply sat back and accepted Cuthroat Island, do you think we’d have gotten it? I think we’d have gotten Cuthroat Island II then III, and so on.

Simply saying “I’m happy with whatever I get” seems to inevitably lead to what you get being whatever the minimum possible standard is.

You said “[c]learly you have a whole set of assumptions tied up in this that go unsaid” and I think you’re right. My basic assumption is: More is More, combined with “you should aim to get as much as possible.”

Trying to follow your basic argument that you should simply accept whatever comes your way without a second thought does not seem likely to produce good results for you in any field of endeavour or experience.

But at least you’ve not gone as far the other way as some people. I was chatting with someone who was bragging about the fact that they don’t play Ultimate very well: they saw their flippancy and almost wilful refusal to get better as in some way guaranteeing fun. But I’ve always found quite the opposite: I enjoy things more that I’m better at. And I guess the upside to the debate is that when I play games against those people, I crush them without mercy and I quite enjoy that. I doubt they do.

Not that I real bodice ripping romance, but surely it should be primarily assessed against like works as the basis for criticism. Applying Aeneidlike expectations to such a work is sure misguided at best.

That was exactly my point. If you’re trying to look at a bit of work as if it’s something totally different, you’re doomed to finding it inadequate.

However, I think there is some more general aim for literature than “is entertaining.” I mean, smoking some crack and watch a spider move: that’s entertainment. No: literature should in some way reflect a basic human-ness. This needn’t be terribly deep, or profound, but it’s something slightly better than a simple distraction. Ultimately, the most successful works of art simultaneously enthrall and illuminate the human condition. This is a value statement outside the scope of my original post. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thus DOA should be compared to Mortal Combat (it was much better) and Rumble in the Bronx (much worse), rather than too Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

And thus is born the theory of Genres. Genre divisions tend to be pretty arbitrary, and not terribly helpful. Why are you putting CTHD in a different camp from the others? My viewing of them was in pretty much the same mode. CTHD did almost all the stuff that those other movies did, but it brought a whole bunch more good shit to the table too. Am I being fanciful for suggesting it was a better martial arts movie than Mortal Kombat? Maybe. Am I wrong to suggest that it fulfilled more of it’s own objectives than MK did? Absolutely not.

MK, like most movies of its ilk could easily have been much better. That’s what the role of the critic is: to improve MK, so that it still does all the things you like about it right now, and a whole bunch more. Or at least, that it’s sequel does. ๐Ÿ™‚

Only a step away from casting aspertions on the “uninformed” ๐Ÿ˜›

Perhaps. Let me just say that when I enjoy a movie, I enjoy it in a lot more ways than someone who just likes flashing pretty colours. I like those too, but I like other stuff that they might not even know is there to be enjoyed.

You’re basically right though, I’m effectively looking down on people who are content to just get what they’re given without question, without striving for better, without even an awareness that “better” is possible. They’re not the people who looked at the cave and thought “condo”, they’re the guys who thought “raw meat, yum.” They’re not the future: they’re trapped in the limbo of the now. While I’m content to leave them be, I certainly don’t aspire to join them.

You haven’t at all explained why I *need* to desconstruct any particular creative work. Let alone why I should do this in order to “get the most” out of it.

You’re right: this isn’t a “need”. If you want to get less than there is on offer, that’s within your rights and capability. But I just can’t grasp your argument that by not taking things further than the bare minimum to get the information into my brain, that somehow this will be more enjoyable, better in any way.

[edit: I read a very cool article by a life-long Shakespeare scholar arguing that while someone should decide whether Shakespeare was a great poet, she was not the man for the job. She said that she was too close to the material, and had observed too many reversals of opinion on any specific work over the decades. It was a fascinating insight into things. That was Fixed Marks and Variable Constancies: A Parable of Value by Barbara Smith.]

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Criticism, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to More on Critical Thinking

  1. So if I watch a movie with a lot of CGI special effects looking for the cracks and flaws in the CGI, am I gaining something from the effort? Probably not, unless it’s my profession to make CGI effects, in which case spotting flaws would help me avoid them in my own work. For me as a regular prole, having seen a flaw once, I’m going to see that flaw everytime I watch that movie. There’s much to be said for maintaining the illusion and keeping suspension of disbelief.

    On a more serious level, yes, certainly I would gain something from dissecting a poem from every angle I can think of: content, language, metatext, stylistic features, in comparison to other works etc. But once I’ve got all those broken up pieces, the value to me is limited unless I go back to the original work and look at it as an integrated whole. Which is where I think some critics run into problems, they get too intent on cutting the work up into smaller and smaller subpieces without putting it all back into context.

    Most poets, if you ask them what they meant by a particular poem, will say “I meant to write a poem.”

    • mashugenah says:

      So if I watch a movie with a lot of CGI special effects looking for the cracks and flaws in the CGI, am I gaining something from the effort?

      I’d take this idea even further really. If you’re only looking for cracks and flaws, in general, how can you possibly be constructive?

      But I generally accept your point: that some material is not as fruitful to thoroughly investigate as others. Beyond a certain level of inquest, there might be little for you to gain.

      I’m a bit surprised nobody brought up a child’s finger painting as an example of something that you needn’t analyse much at all to completely understand but I guess they thought they had bigger fish to fry.

      But once I’ve got all those broken up pieces, the value to me is limited unless I go back to the original work and look at it as an integrated whole.

      A most excellent point. Information retrieval is all well and good, but ultimately you need to be able to use that information in some way. I would totally agree that a lot of criticism I’ve read can only break down, it can’t be used constructively without substantial revision.

      Most poets, if you ask them what they meant by a particular poem, will say “I meant to write a poem.”

      Lol. Yes: as discussed many times previously, I tend to want to minimise the consideration of authorial intent. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. eloieli says:

    I can’t track your actual position

    The main response to this post that I have is I can’t track the position you are taking. On one had you seem to argue for relatvism (of some limited variety), on the other you seem to argue for some kind of “objectivism”.

    In your original post you said this: “In order to get the most out of any work of literature, any tv show, or anything you encounter in your life, you need to critically engage with it.”

    In this post you say this: “However, I think there is some more general aim for literature than “is entertaining.”

    I specifically used “creative work” in my posts replying to your original one because I wanted to avoid “work of Art” or “literature” because you seemed to me, to be applying a standard of analysis for the latter things to everything.

    So, are you talking about engagement with literature or with all creative endevour (the teletubbies vs the BBC miniseris of Pride and Prejudice)? Or all of life?

    Also, in my defense you misrepresent me (as I may have been misrepresenting you, it seems I understood your original post to be talking about something different to what you intended).

    You deconstruct my position to this: “Trying to follow your basic argument that you should simply accept whatever comes your way without a second thought does not seem likely to produce good results for you in any field of endeavour or experience.”

    But I never said that it was simply about accepting “whatever comes my way without a second thought.” In fact, my position *requires* a second thought. Simply that second thought is “Should I do any more to engage with this work, does it merit more involvement from me that I have already given it?”

    With many things; Mills and Boons romances, DOA, fluff blog posts, clearly the answer is no. Why waste time and effort engaging with something for little or no return when I can spend that time seeking other “engagements”?

    In one of the comments I addressed this specifically: “Sometimes such critical engagement is fruitful and interesting and fun. Other times it’s a pointless waste of time. I watched DOA engaged with it and enjoyed it for what it was, and moved on.”

    You wrote: “Ultimately, the most successful works of art simultaneously enthrall and illuminate the human condition.”

    Here is an example of applying a universal norm. You claim that the ultimate success criteria for “works of art” (which I’d hold to be seperate from any creative work*) is that they are enthralling and iilluminate the human condition.

    So, on one had you argue for relativism, and then you appeal to ultimates (of the non Frisbee variety). I am not sure if this is in keeping with “Masho Goethic” relativism ^__^ More clarification of that position is what I need to understand your posts.

    This is a common problem with various ‘relativisms’ they want to appeal to “truths” or “norms” or “ulitmates” as long as they are the ones that suit the particular breed of relativism.

    • mashugenah says:

      Re: I can’t track your actual position

      The main response to this post that I have is I can’t track the position you are taking. On one had you seem to argue for relatvism (of some limited variety), on the other you seem to argue for some kind of “objectivism”.

      I’ve been pondering how to approach responding to this. There are a lot of options available to me. My basic problem with responding is that I think I’ve pretty much put down all the ideas I have on this in one place or another. Re-phrasing the whole thing might shed some light, or it might not. If you’re interested in trying to understand what my thought is, I’ll give it a go. If you’re pushing on with a negative gut reaction and wanting to ‘win’ this, I think I’ll pass. Life is too short.

      The only other comment I’ll make is that I feel like you’re trying to find some definitive statement that totally and perfectly encapsulates my views, while simultaneously being a perfectly correct and unimpeachable comment on the matter at hand. But both of us realise that neither of these things is actually possible, as variously discussed in the “relativism” bits of this.

      So, what are you hoping for?

  3. eloieli says:

    A few other comments

    This sentence doesn’t make sense to me:
    “Am I wrong to suggest that it fulfilled more of it’s own objectives than MK did? Absolutely not.”

    So, are you saying Mortal Kombat should be fulfilling Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragons objectives? Or should it be fulfilling MKs objectives? It certainly didn’t do the former, but should it? And, well, I don’t really think it did the latter either, but measuring it against it’s own standards is more appropriate. And no, I wouldn’t call CTHD a martial arts movie.

    “MK, like most movies of its ilk could easily have been much better.” Could it? Perhaps it was the best movie it could have been given things like budgetary constraints and time to market and all these other factors. After all, movies are primarily a money making enterprise. At least as much as they are about some notion of “art”. IMO more.

    And you say the role of the critic is to improve the “work of art”. But the critic can’t, because the critic comes after the work is complete. Does the critic improve the sequel? Maybe, although I expect the criteria for sequals are more commercial than critical. Though I suppose criticism might somehow feed into this commercial decision.

    “They’re (people who don’t critically engage) not the future: they’re trapped in the limbo of the now. While I’m content to leave them be, I certainly don’t aspire to join them.”

    This is a sweeping and unsupported generalisation.

    Just because *I* don’t critically engage with *all* creative works I access (remember you original post talked about things I wouldn’t calls as art or literature, like *all* tv) doesn’t make me some knuckle dragging moron with no vision for the future.

    It just means, as I originally objected, that you inappropriately apply *your* standards of engagement to me and everyone else, in the process implying that all others are somehow less intelligent in the process.

    So really, is what you are saying is all your “erudite” reasoning is really just justification for snobbery?

    No wonder I can’t track your position. I didn’t expect it boil do this. If it does.

    Finally you say this: “You’re right: this isn’t a “need”.” (for critical analysis)

    But in your original post you say this: “In order to get the most out of any work of literature, any tv show, or anything you encounter in your life, you need to critically engage with it.”

    This is what this whole conversation is about. I object to you telling me what I need to do to “get the most” out of a piece of creative work. Or in fact every single thing in my life. So, should I critically engage with my bus trip home?

    In order to clarify my own thinking. Because you initally applied this criteria to “any work of literature, any tv show, or anything you encounter in your life”. I have made a conscious effort not to talk about literature or works of art. Instead I have tried (and probably failed) to consistently use the term “creative work” to apply to all of the fruits of human creative endevour, whether they’d be considered “Art” or “Literature” by anyone at all.

    Coming up with robust definition of art and literature that everyone agrees on may be impossible. But I think it’s fairly clear that the doodles in my journal are not Art, whereas Monet’s paintings are.

    To me it seems fruitful to apply critical analysis to all literature and works of art. It is also fruitful to apply it to many things poeple wouldn’t consider literature or works of art, but that are still worth the effort of analysis.

    What seems unfruitful is to apply it to things that I know have absolutely no depth. Should I bother critically analysing the article in Women’s Day about Angelina leaving Brad? Perhaps enough to dismiss it as idle gossip but that would be it. If I dug in to it I might find many deficiencies of language and style and form etc. But really, whats the point. Except for perhaps confirming my opinion that such stuff is trash and not worth the effort of in depth analysis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s