Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Non est disputandum

I sometimes think, when I feel like thinking about something I can't do anything about, about the changes in the oppositional "indie rock" ethos since I was in high school, and about indie taste becoming so much more eclectic and elastic. But I hadn't thought to link these concerns in with my day-job worries about "the function of criticism." Now I don't have to; Mike Barthel puts the problem succinctly:

We all know someone who likes the things we hate, and who seems like a smart person. Similarly, most things we like are probably hated by someone else who's a reasonable and decent person. At that point, what is there to argue about? As facile as it may seem, vigorous criticism seems to require that critics divide things up into virtuous and evil, and that other critics disagree with that.

What I like about this formulation is it suggests that criticism will be most "vigorous" and useful when different kinds of people, with different tastes, are trying to get used to each other (as in times of population growth, or globalization, or adolescence) and decide whose values are right. But once they've gotten used to each other, and pluralism and catholicity are the norm, maybe there's not such a big role for critics to play — or maybe the role just has to be different.

I don't think I have anything sensible to say about all this right now, but I appreciate music journalism for occasionally raising these issues, which are among the most repressed in the academic critical field.