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Distrust That Particular Favorite Dept.

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Snobbism time. I've learned not to trust the tastes of people who describe, say, a book as "the best book I've ever read", or a movie using the same sloppy language.

I don't trust such pronouncements because all too often they tell me nothing about why the book, movie, etc. in question is any good. Anyone can say something is the best ever, when what they really mean is that it's a favorite, and for reasons that are entirely personal.

But ... I don't hold this against people for the most part. Most folks are not critics and do not train themselves to be critics, and I'm not surprised that most people don't want that crap job in the first place. You express opinions which few, if any, people agree with in the first place, attempt to introduce worthy work to largely indifferent audiences, and in the end don't even get paid for it. (The number of people I know who do get paid for such work, apart from being paid in copies, I could count on one hand with enough fingers left over to flash a peace sign. I am the index finger.)

End result, most of what people say about "best" and "worst" are essentially well-meaning prejudices, not attempts at genuine criticism. The problem is they are too easily misinterpreted by others as forms of criticism. Me included, by the way: I've done this more times than I can count, and I've only recently started to school myself out of it.

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There are a few things I know I like which are not defensible or explicable. I couldn't tell you why a movie like I Love Maria leaves me in stitches — it's some weird personal alchemy at work, for lack of a better way to put it. I know it isn't explicable, and so any talk of aesthetics on my part requires that I leave out mention of that outlier and many others in the same vein. And in the same vein, I could not tell you why other things just plain rub me the wrong way. (I "know" Heinlein is a valuable and important SF author, but something about most of his books just makes me not want to read them, and I have never figured out why.)

The business of separating your tastes from your powers of analysis is not something you can accomplish in a season, and there's good reason to believe it can only be done so far over the course of a lifetime. We all want to find reasons why our favorites are also the best, or why the things we call best are also our favorites. There may be no reason more complex than the fact that we make that connection on our own in the first place.

Tags: art  criticism  literature 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2012/09/09 10:00.

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