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November 19, 2013

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sk60

although “there are no Vietnamese in Night of the Living Dead... they constitute an absent presence whose significance can be understood if narrative is construed.”

That English degree was money well spent then.

David

That English degree was money well spent then.

Literary criticism, of which there’s so much, is a pretty low art. So much of the ‘analysis’ is wilfully tendentious and its practitioners are usually eager to shoehorn their own fixations and generic leftism into the mix, often at the expense of evidence and logic. When people are telling you that zombie films are popular with teenagers because they symbolise the repression of The Other by a relentless capitalist bourgeoisie, it’s time to put the book down and go wash the car. Or wash the neighbour’s car.

Jimmy

absent presence

Yeah, I've seen this phrase invoked before.

As always, my bullshit meter just exploded.

Minnow

"Literary criticism, of which there’s so much, is a pretty low art."

It's a very high art, you just can't learn how to do it on a cultural studies course.

Henry

What a splendid quote from Doris Lessing. You'd think more writers would be aware of this fact. If a the writer tries to impose some simplistic idea on a work of fiction - or if they don't leave enough room for interpretation - then I think they are bound to limit it's power.

Likewise, if a reader does the same it will presumably say more about that reader's preoccupations and understanding. It's an interesting relationship between the power of a story, and the way religions tend to rather rely on stories - and fight over what the meaning is :)

At the risk of being a gender politics bore, here is another quote from Lessing from 2001 on the state of modern feminism:

"I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed...I was in a class of nine- and 10-year-olds, girls and boys, and this young woman was telling these kids that the reason for wars was the innately violent nature of men. You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence, thinking this was going to be the pattern of their lives"

David

What’s funny is you can read umpteen ‘analyses’ of the same trashy film – say, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead - and find leftwing writers insisting, quite confidently, that it’s obviously “about” the Vietnam War and Western imperialism, while other leftwing writers don’t mention Vietnam at all but insist, with equal confidence, that it’s obviously a Marxist critique of bourgeois consumerism. Or patriarchy, or racial politics, or whatever their particular bugbear happens to be. And the fact that Romero read these ‘analyses’ and in later zombie films played to some of these assumptions, crassly, doesn’t make the original assertions any less comical.

JuliaM

"It’s remarkable how often some cultural critics see their own preoccupations in unlikely art forms."

There was an article in the 'Guardian' yesterday about the reissue of 'Gone With The Wind' with the predictable gripe that it was 'all about Rhett and Scarlett, and not about slavery'.

Well, yes. Similarly 'Life Of Pi' is all about a man and a tiger, and not about the sea...

Guncriminal

Elysium wasn't about what critics thought it was about.

David

Elysium wasn’t about what critics thought it was about.

Heh.

R.Sherman

The study of literature went off the rails, the moment "critics" decided they could appropriate any written work and shoe-horn it into whatever pet social issue which occupied them at the moment. I'm surprised Lessing wasn't informed by someone that The Fifth Child was a Pro-Choice manifesto.

Severian

Please spare a thought for your cousins across the water, who have been forced to endure this "Barack Obama is Teh Ultra-Mega-Geniusness" cult for seven years now. In America, you're not allowed to speak publicly of black people* in a way that might conceivably be considered "racist" by the thinnest-skinned poetry major, so all comments must be as fulsome as possible. Which pretty much torpedoes that whole "representative democracy" thing, but whatever; Daddy Government knows best.

*unless the black person in question is a conservative, in which case feel free to unleash a foam-flecked tirade so foul it would make a Klansman blush. Because civility.

WTP's Feminine Side

There was an article in the 'Guardian' yesterday about the reissue of 'Gone With The Wind' with the predictable gripe that it was 'all about Rhett and Scarlett, and not about slavery'.

Not much different than my AP American History class where they told us explicitly the US Civil War was NOT about slavery, it was all about states' rights. As if millions would have gone to war if say, Lincoln forced the states to adopt his health care plan.

AC1

>Elysium wasn't about what critics thought it was about.

Is this an example of the flip side to Poe's Law?

pst314

Edward Said's Orientalism was embraced by english professors and the denizens of "studies" departments, even though it was quickly shown to be lies and defamation. The sad truth is that most english departments today are staffed by second- and third-rate minds--not just ignorant and foolish but inclined to embrace evil in the name of "tolerance" and "diversity" and "fairness".

dicentra

It’s remarkable how often some cultural critics see their own preoccupations in unlikely art forms.

Jeff Goldstein, please call your office.

dicentra

“Had I wanted to write about AIDS or the Palestinian problem I would have written a pamphlet,”

Perfect.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe, anyone?

Slartibartfast

If Obama really is smarter and more knowledgeable than his policy directors, that explains much.

A smarter President would see a solution in there somewhere.

Hal

Please spare a thought for your cousins across the water, who have been forced to endure this "Barack Obama is Teh Ultra-Mega-Geniusness" cult for seven years now. . . . . *unless the black person in question is a conservative, in which case feel free to unleash a foam-flecked tirade so foul it would make a Klansman blush. Because civility.

Ayup . . . pretty much as with many other places, there is a lot of vehement shrieking from one political extreme, directed at the other extreme, where even the slightest tilt away from either extreme and back towards reality does get one branded as One Of Them!!!!!

And when reminding either or both extreme of the majority of us in between, the responses are either that of a deer in the headlights, or, the enraged How Dare You(remind me of reality!!!!!!)

Hal

Edward Said's Orientalism was embraced by english professors and the denizens of "studies" departments, . . . . .

A few years ago there was an unintentional comedy starring Brad Pitt and a bunch of others, with a title of Troy. At the time the movie came out there was rather a lot of pointed observations as to how horrible the occurrence, where one of my observations was, basically, Ooooh! Y’mean the entire Trojan War was completely done in about two weeks?? Coool!!!!

On an other hand, there did turn out to be an absolutely excellent reason for the making of Troy, Stop Giggling, Really, This is a Serious movie we tell you, Serious!!!!!. and that reason is Troy in Fifteen Minutes, to be found at http://cleolinda.livejournal.com/99710.html . . . .

Main Street Parade, Troy
HOUSEWIVES OF TROY: Ooo, look at the new hussy in the chariot!
HELEN: I'm starting to think this was a bad idea.
PARIS: I still think this is the bestest idea ever.
HECTOR: I still think that you're a moron.
PRIAM: Son, despite your stupidness, I approve of Helen, because she is a stone fox. Also, your cousin Briseis is still a virgin priestess. I just thought we should remind everyone of that, because surely you've forgotten in the week that you've been gone.
BRISEIS:
Dear George Lucas:
I just got the hug-and-kiss treatment from Eric Bana AND Orlando Bloom in the space of a minute. Thanks again for discovering me; you may come pick up my firstborn child at your earliest convenience.
Love,
Rose


. . . . and thus in like manner, Said did indeed finally get granted a justification for his commentary, that of David Cannadine’s excellent Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire at http://www.amazon.com/Ornamentalism-How-British-Their-Empire/dp/019515794X


Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire is a book by David Cannadine about British perceptions of the British Empire. Cannadine argues that class, rank and status were more important to the British Empire than race. The title of the work Ornamentalism is a direct reference to Edward Said's book Orientalism, which argues the existence of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ornamentalism . . . . .

Hal

Oy. In like category of My mouth is moving, therefore I hope to look intelligent, there is http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/17/3d-printing-guns-ban-senate . . .

Senator seeks to extend ban on 'undetectable' 3D-printed guns
Chuck Schumer says technology means anyone with $1,000 and an internet connection can assemble plastic firearm parts

So if a firearm is detected, then it is not affected by this, but then there can be no enforcement without detection . . .

Ignoring the attempt to ban the undetectable, there are the actual 3D printed items being discussed, but again as the replying comments on the article point out, there are much more efficacious alternatives. And finally, as assorted popes discovered after Gutenberg, once the printer has been created . . . .

The fantasies of the left wing---and extremist---rather remind me of a comment by Mark Russell regarding the mirror image right wing---and extremist---after a recent election:

When a Republican loses an election in an empty forest, does it make an ultrasound?

David Gillies

I'm thoroughly mystified by the idea of Barack Obama as some sort of transcendent intellectual titan. It seems to be one of those statements whose truth is based on nothing more than its repeated assertion. I've been following Obama since he appeared on my radar in about 2005 (sad wonk that I am) and in all that time I can't think of anything he's said that really struck me as profound, insightful or -- for that matter -- particularly felicitous. Even among his critics there's all too often a sort of ritual signum crucis when talking about him to the effect that, yes, he's a jackanapes but gosh, isn't he clever? What evidence is there of this? Has he, in any of his manifold speeches, ever said anything that is not either glib, self-aggrandising, vapid, casuistic, pandering or just plain false? He strikes me as a rather stolid C+/B- student. Not outright stupid, but decidedly mediocre.

Incidentally there's a tag wonky at the end of the previous comment.

Bour3

Preoccupation, you found the perfect word.

T.K. Tortch

Not much different than my AP American History class where they told us explicitly the US Civil War was NOT about slavery, it was all about states' rights. As if millions would have gone to war if say, Lincoln forced the states to adopt his health care plan.

Incidentally, nothing would have bolstered the cause of "State's Rights" more than if Lincoln tried to enact some sort of nationalized health plan. That alone might have started a war pitting more than the southern states against the Federal Government. But it never would have gotten that far; Congress wouldn't have allowed it, and Lincoln wouldn't be taken seriously after proposing such a thing. And if Congress did pass such legislation, the Supreme Court would have struck it down. Even after the Civil War, that kind of program wouldn't pass Constitutional muster. It probably wouldn't be legally thinkable until sometime after, say, F.D.R.'s second term.

And back in that day, they would have fought over such a thing. After all, the Revolution started over mere taxes.

WTP

yeah, I was just being a bit facetious. Italics stopped now?

TimT

"America’s throbbingly intellectual Clown-in-Chief...."

When did the idea take hold that the head of a nation has to be some super-cerebral wonk, anyway? Especially among progressives? Especially among American progressives? It's been around for a while; I remember the president in The West Wing was supposed to be an exemplar of this - and indeed, that was the whole message of that show really: "these people talk fast using lots of big words: it must be good for our nation!" And that was kind of understandable for progressives during the Bush years - they saw Bush as a dummy and it must have been nice for them to think about a superbrain in power in contrast to George Bush. The continuance of the idea now is just.... weird.

I mean, yeah, intelligence is important; but it's also important that a leader have a clear moral instinct, an ability to make the *right* decisions. But it's as if progressives see a nation as a hyper-complex technical arrangement like a computer rather than, I dunno, a group of people bound together by a common history and destiny, by laws and a language and a democratic system of governance. In the end expecting the leader to be the brightest thinker in the nation, as if that would make everything better, is just kind of.... how shall I put this.... stupid.

Adam D

This Article is right up your alley David...

It starts with "My friends are progressive and accepting, which is fantastic, although every now and then I'm reminded that they're a minority, and that most of society sees me as a problem. A problem for myself, a problem for them, a problem for the system. It would be easier for them if I just didn't exist."

And the lovely author is the product of our fine academic institutions of course...

Catherine Bouris is a 20 year-old university student from Sydney. She's passionate about intersectional feminism, photography, travel, makeup and pop culture.

Read the whole thing, its just left-wing buzzwords combined with a complete lack of self-awareness
http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/why-the-hell-are-you-so-fat-catherine-bouris-on-life-as-an-overweight-woman/story-fnixwvgh-1226764110646

David

Incidentally there’s a tag wonky at the end of the previous comment.

Polite note from your host. If using tags, please be sure to close them properly. That way, I don’t have to spend my morning trying to find which bracket in which comment is screwing up the rest of the thread. That is all. Carry on.

David

Thomas Sowell:

The last thing the political left needs, or can even afford, are self-reliant individuals. If such people became the norm, that would destroy not only the agenda and the careers of those on the left, but even their flattering image of themselves as saviours of the less fortunate. Victimhood is where it’s at. If there are not enough real victims, then fictitious victims must be created -- as with the claim that there is “a war on women.” Why anyone would have an incentive or a motivation to create a war on women in the first place is just one of the questions that should be asked of those who promote this political slogan, obviously designed for the gullible.

The real war -- which is being waged in our schools, in the media and among the intelligentsia -- is the war on achievement. When President Obama told business owners, “You didn’t build that!” this was just one passing skirmish in the war on achievement. The very word “achievement” has been replaced by the word “privilege” in many writings of our times. Individuals or groups that have achieved more than others are called “privileged” individuals or groups, who are to be resented rather than emulated. The length to which this kind of thinking -- or lack of thinking -- can be carried was shown in a report on various ethnic groups in Toronto. It said that people of Japanese ancestry in that city were the most “privileged” group there, because they had the highest average income. What made this claim of “privilege” grotesque was a history of anti-Japanese discrimination in Canada, climaxed by people of Japanese ancestry being interned during World War II longer than Japanese Americans.

Here.

Jason Bontrager

How many historians does it take to change a lightbulb? A peer-review: http://fundermental.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/peer-review-changing-lightbulb.html

Henry

Does anyone know what's happened with Anna Raccoon's blog? Seems to have evaporated, and no clues on Twitter that I can see

sackcloth and ashes

'What’s funny is you can read umpteen ‘analyses’ of the same trashy film – say, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead - and find leftwing writers insisting, quite confidently, that it’s obviously “about” the Vietnam War and Western imperialism, while other leftwing writers don’t mention Vietnam at all but insist, with equal confidence, that it’s obviously a Marxist critique of bourgeois consumerism. Or patriarchy, or racial politics, or whatever their particular bugbear happens to be. And the fact that Romero read these ‘analyses’ and in later zombie films played to some of these assumptions, crassly, doesn’t make the original assertions any less comical'.

There is a story (possibly apocryphal) about the making of 'Night of the Living Dead'. Some critics picked up on the fact that Romero had cast an African-American (Duane Jones) as the lead, the first time this was done with a US horror movie. So clearly, these critics assumed, the director was trying to make some point about civil rights, or racism (both of which were obviously bigger issues in the late 1960s than they are now).

In response, Romero said that this was bullshit. He was an independent film-maker without a studio budget behind him, and he could only recruit a relatively obscure group of actors. Out of them, he cast Jones because he was the best of the bunch, was professionally-trained, and was the most likely to carry the lead role. His race had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Looking back on this, Romero's statement was actually radical. He did not want to make any points about racial politics, or to cast Jones out of tokenism. He had an attitude which basically said 'I will not treat this man's race as a negative or a positive. I will not either discriminate against him or privilege him. I'm giving him the lead role because he'll be good at it'.

David

S&A,

I can’t recall the source but I read that Romero was mystified by the efforts to ‘explain’ his film as a Marxist critique of bourgeois consumerism or whatever. I’m pretty sure he said it was basically just a riff on Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend.

sackcloth and ashes

It just goes to show how what I saw as one of the basic rules of film criticism - 'only describe what you actually see on the screen' - has gone out of the window.

I know that there's plenty of opportunity to interpret films. Taking 'First Blood', for example, you could see that as an indictment of war and the military, and about how soldiers are brutalised and traumatised by their experiences of being in an Army. Or you could say that it condemns the civil society that ostracised and stigmatised Vietnam veterans, and about how the latter's trauma was compounded by their post-war treatment (mind you, I incline towards the latter view because (a) the most sympathetic of the supporting cast is Richard Crenna's special forces officer, and (b) Rambo only actually kills one man during the entire film, and that is essentially a combination of accident and self-defence).

But now (as per Rick Moody, who I believe you've already linked to) you don't actually need to know what you're talking about as a critic. I just love Moody's assertion that 'Gladiator' is 'an allegory about George W Bush's candidacy for president'. From script to can the film was made in 1998-1999, which either implies that Ridley Scott was a political clairvoyant, or Moody is a fucking idiot:

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2011/nov/24/frank-miller-hollywood-fascism

David

But now (as per Rick Moody, who I believe you’ve already linked to) you don’t actually need to know what you’re talking about as a critic.

Oh yes, him. The man who was upset by action hero ruggedness, and who then asked the question on everyone’s lips:

Are Ridley Scott’s falling petals… anything more than a way to gussy up the triumph of oligarchy, corporate capital and globalisation?

A colossal tit.

sackcloth and ashes

He does get absolutely mullahed in the comments.

Rich Rostrom

Some art does have subtexts. The insistence on finding subtexts in all art is silly.
TimT: When did the idea take hold that the head of a nation has to be some super-cerebral wonk, anyway? Especially among progressives? Especially among American progressives?

1912, the election of Woodrow Wilson - an elite academic who empowered a whole horde of his ilk.

FDR has been summarized as "A second-rate intellect, but a first-class temperament." Which is to say, he's only half-OK: not a Brain Truster himself, but had the deference to empower the Brain Trusters.

mojo
Incidentally there’s a tag wonky at the end of the previous comment.

Polite note from your host. If using tags, please be sure to close them properly. That way, I don’t have to spend my morning trying to find which bracket in which comment is screwing up the rest of the thread. That is all. Carry on.

Posted by: David | November 20, 2013 at 07:41

Just go to the top of the italics and close immediately after the open tag. An extra close won't hurt unthinkable...

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