Yesterday’s entry gnawed me and I spent the rest of the night and much of the drive from Kentucky to Philadelphia today turning over the different notions of “good,” “great,” “ordinary,” “average,” etc. that I had discussed in reference to some of Nietzsche’s ideas from The Genealogy of Morals. Though I spent a lot of time digging into the good/great relationship in fields like programming and film, I didn’t get into the areas that interest me the most about good/great critique: writing and criticism.
Sometimes, “great” isn’t enough. An author has to be called “the greatest ever,” or an album the “greatest of the past 30 years.” Why not just “best?” Perhaps “greatest” seems less absolute – and less saddled with baggage than “best” (i.e., probably no one is going to retort “like anyone could even know that”) – but also more majestic. What is lacks in authority – we’re talking about deeming works open to subjective interpretation as somehow the objective peaks of their fields – it makes up for in how grandiose its praise sounds.
Pitchfork’s two reviews of Radiohead’s Kid A are two instructive examples of what happens when critique is released from even having to think about good-vs-bad and instead gets lost in explaining “greatness.” The author, in his hyperbolic praise, even talked about the album being like an “aquarium” while everything else was “blue construction paper.” It’s easy to see that such use of greatness is often an escape hatch from good-vs-bad; it’s an attempt to separate something off and label it as eternal, as I alluded to when I talked about hymns and scriptures that used.
With books, though, I think that labeling anything “great” and setting it completely aside from “good” is a tiresome exercise. Just as an exercise, I pulled these two passages, one from a book that I adore and the other from one that I have mixed feelings about. I could go on about one being “great’ and the other merely “good” (or even “average,” since not all of it is at thel level below, anyway).
If I were to apply a great-vs-good critique here, it would probably be on the basis of humor. The passage about the car has made me laugh while walking through Chicago’s parks before, while the business about “Lang’s network” does nothing for me. But my hypothetical words – “this is from a ‘great’ book’ while the other is from a good one that just falls shorts” – I don’t think i would be doing anyone, especially literature students, any favors. Worshipping “greatness” is a distraction from trying to figure out why we even go public with our feelings about things being “good” or “bad” or “evil” in the first place (and we have so many channels for doing so now, via blogs like this one, Yelp, Facebook, Amazon…).
I hoped to dive more into review culture today, seeing as how I’ve written on it before at length, but this will have to suffice till tomorrow. I’ll take up reviews in more depth, starting with book reviews and then questioning why electronic dance music lacks the professional critic culture of rock music.