Criticism and Its Discontents

Well-done if somewhat coy piece about A.O. Scott’s book, which is on my all-too-lengthy reading list. I would only add that working as an editor has been the most beneficial aspect of my professional career as an arts critic. If, as Dick Hugo said, “There are lots of good poets. There are very few good critics,” the next observations is “there are lots of good critics compared to the number of good criticism editors.” When you’re young and starting out, you don’t know enough and tend to overcompensate with attitude (which is one reason why imitating Lester Bangs was a rite of puberty for decades in the rock-crit field). The right editor can turn down the noise and suggest what you might need to add for substance. When you’re senior and winding down (at least a little), you wish you were back editing youngsters so that you could better understand their direct experience with new styles and performers. I believe it’s the one guaranteed way to avoid listening and reacting like an Olde Phart (at least sometimes).

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