I’ve just cut the first few pages out of a notebook, to re-purpose it. One of those pages is a couple of sentences of musings/the start of an argument about an issue I’ve often thought about. They start to explain why I always resist making an objective/subjective distinction in talking about art, and why engagement with art has to, I think, operate at the level/scale it does. Here is what I wrote (partly being transcribed here so I can throw the piece of paper away):
In order for its meaning to be released/realised, for it to become the kind of thing it is designed to be, an artwork has to react with a human brain. In a sense, then, there is no such thing as ‘mass reaction/reception’, only an agglomeration of individual responses. The individual experience is an ineliminable part of the way artworks come to have meaning.
This post is a response to a blog post and a vlog post by my friend Matthew, over on his new blog, Pateman’s Ponderings. Those posts were prompted by the various reactions to Kai Cole’s publication of her account of her ex-husband Joss Whedon’s infidelity. I have no interest in contributing to that debate specifically, but as someone with Romantic and even auteurist leanings, I did want to respond briefly to some of the theoretical foundations upon which Matthew rests his response/metaresponse.
A comprehensively adequate interpretive account of a given work of art would take in, synoptically, its phenomenal effects (tone, style, theme, formal organization), locate it in a cultural context, explain that cultural context as a particular organization of the elements of human nature within a specific set of environmental conditions (including cultural traditions), register the responses of readers, describe the sociocultural, political, and psychological functions the work fulfills, locate those functions in relation to the evolved needs of human nature, and link the work comparatively with other artistic works, using a taxonomy of themes, formal elements, affective elements, and functions derived from a comprehensive model of human nature.
Joseph Carroll. Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice. SUNY Press, 2011.
Criticism is the systematic reading (that is, evaluation) of texts. Like all other activities, it takes place in the present. Like all other critical activities, it presupposes a principled attitude to the politics which constitute the present. The business of the film critic is to arrive at an understanding, on the basis of that attitude – which ought to be as alert and as conscious as possible – of what is of value in the past and present of the cinema, and to ensure that this value is recognized for what it is, and has the influence it ought to have, now.
Andrew Britton. Britton on Film: The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton. ed. Barry Keith Grant. Wayne State University Press, 2009.