The Critics

thecriticThe critics fidgeted in their fat chairs, boasting of long lunches with publicists and grand gifts from studios, while waiting for the descent into darkness. They were all men – or, at least, the kind of inactive men who were becoming more commonly accepted in the early years of the twenty-first century. They couldn’t be bothererd to take a stand, unless you counted the pretentious essays they wrote for well-funded websites (and maybe one of those rare dead tree outlets) that only a handful of snobs regarded. They could talk for hours about the Italian Neorealists, but they would never dare fly to Italy unless someone else was footing the bill and their assistants had remembered to obtain passports.

The critics were truly amazing – not because of what they said or wrote about movies – but because they represented a sad and peculiar type of human specimen who remained almost completely out of touch on almost every important issue. You could call up these critics and ask them to rattle off Takuya Kimura’s last eight roles, but you couldn’t get them to say anything intelligent about the subprime crisis or the rising unemployment rate or Goldman Sachs. You couldn’t possibly get them to remark upon the warm smell of a Louisiana cypress or the first time they had truly loved a woman. But they could tell you of such moments that occurred within the woeful world of cinema. That tree’s slight sway in that one Tarkovsky shot. Was it intentional? It was at the 33:42 mark on the DVD, and it looked better in Blu-Ray than the torrent. And what had Kent Jones said about it at that panel that twenty-three civilized people had attended?

The critics would fight long and hard over whether Vertovian or Eisensteinian montage had made more of a cultural impact, but they would never stand up for the colleague who lost his job because he was considered too old and too wise. The critics would never look out for the young whipper-snapper who was lucky to have a job. The critics’s asses were relentlessly fixed to their chairs and it would be difficult to extract them. And, if one must delve down a sad opportunistic path, it might make a good reality TV show to see if these men could perform honest labor and demonstrate the extent of their bravado.

But there was a movie to write about. No notes required. The fastidious days of erudition were over. This would be a 300 word review. Oh Christ, longer than 90 minutes? Subtitles? Hope I don’t fall asleep. But there’s that junket tomorrow. Too bad I don’t have the balls to ask a real question.

The lights went down. The darkness might have cloaked the critics if the professional exercise had not been so transparent.


  • James Wood vs. Steven Augustine. I hope to have more to say on Wood’s review of O’Neill later, once I have thought more about why it rubs me the wrong way. It is not, in this case, Wood’s customary championing of realism above everything else, but rather the manner in which he articulates his position. Some of the generalizations that Wood has unearthed from O’Neill’s book (“This is attentive, rich prose about New York in crisis that, refreshingly, is not also prose in crisis”) are as troubled as the assumptions frequently attached to litbloggers: that they generalize and make obvious points about literature. In the paragraph I am citing, there is the illusion here of careful dissection that comes with the strained voice of sophistication (“one lovely swipe of a sentence”), rather than a passionate and more specific dissection. I suspect this is a case where what Wood writes is different from how Wood thinks. But some hard editor should have demanded more clarity. I wouldn’t go as far as Augustine to declare Wood “a middlebrow theorist using highbrow language to communicate his theories.” But I can certainly see why Augustine can come away with this conclusion.
  • Funny Farm is a disconcerting but enjoyable distraction for those fond of association that will easily take away hours from your life. You have been warned. (via Waxy)
  • Bob Hoover is quite right to point out that memoirs show no sign of slowing down, despite recent controversies. The one regrettable side effect about the whole “memoir” rap is that good old-fashioned autobiographies have fallen by the wayside. Which is a pity, because this means that books like Anthony Burgess’s two volume “Confessions” or Kinski: All I Need is Love couldn’t possibly be published in this environment. Can there not be more fluidity to the form? (via Slunch)
  • We shouldn’t be asking ourselves the question of “Who killed the literary critic?” A far more intriguing line of inquiry would have involved the question, “Who killed the human?” Has the role of the human become obsolete in an age of boilerplate “intellectualism,” belabored points, and predictable sentences? Is passion still possible within such a stifling climate? A new book, The Death of the Human, says no, and argues that there are still reasons to believe that there are, in fact, humans who do populate this planet. There are some humans who still partake of rollercoasters, ice cream, and occasionally let loose a raspberry in Carnegie Hall.
  • And there’s a lot more from Mr. Sarvas that should keep you busy.

[UPDATE: I have emailed James Wood and he has confirmed with me that he sent Nigel the email.]

Sprezzatura the Maligned

It’s been more than a year since the manboy cultural critic Lee Siegel was temporarily suspended from The New Republic for allegedly posting anonymous comments on its blog, under the name “sprezzatura.” And while Boris Kachka has interviewed Lee Siegel, Filthy Habits recently received an email from an individual claiming to be “sprezzatura.” He wished to set the matter straight. Sprezzatura’s email, which contained three mysterious JPEG attachments (among them, a picture of an alpaca in a compromising yet family-friendly position), claimed that he had been misrepresented, that Siegel was not “brave, brilliant, and wittier than [Jon] Stewart,” and demanded immediate reinstatement to the New Republic message boards. It remains a mystery to me why sprezzatura thought I had the keys to the New Republic castle. But this was a desperate email written in a desperate time.

“It is there where my shallow invective flowed best,” wrote sprezzatura of the New Republic website. He offered to send me $100 if I would interview him. I declined on moral principle. Then sprezzatura demanded an interview with me gratis by email because “Kachka had proved to be a wuss with his softball questions.” And I agreed, only because I had no wish to receive an email from sprezzatura ever again. I have been unable to confirm whether this “sprezzatura” is the same “sprezzatura” unleashed on Siegel’s blog. Indeed, I do not how many “sprezzaturas” there are. But I suppose it’s pedantic mysteries like this that have many of us wasting long hours on the Internet.

sprezz.jpgWhy don’t you just get a blog?

Because that would be too easy! And if I had devoted a blog just to clarifying my identity, I would have been thought a kook!

Actually, most bloggers are cranks. I speak with some expertise on the subject. But I don’t see how you’re making a case here, Lee.

Do not address me with that name! Those days are far behind me! We must forget that regrettable episode!

So you are Lee Siegel.

If you’ll pardon a metaphorical leap, Lee Siegel is a tuna melt poorly prepared with half-melted cheese. John Battelle never responded to any of my thoughtful queries. Therefore, he is an imbecile who cannot recognize my genius. David Brooks rested his argument on the flimsiest of premises. I do not need to inform you what these premises are. Just trust me. They’re flimsy. And when Cox wanted to draw attention to herself, she used the word “cunt” to make a point. Plus, she made more money than I did. And she’s a woman two decades younger than I am. It’s not fair!

Lots of invective there, sprezza baby. But can you cite any specific examples? Some might argue that you are using “cunt” to make….well, not exactly a point, but to stand out with an irrational Dale Peck-style explanation.

It doesn’t matter! Malcolm Gladwell’s hair was adopted for television as American Idol. I have tried to stop them from supplying him with shampoo, but they keep arresting me!

Lee, step away from the Internet and get some fresh air. We’ve had some unseasonably warm weather in January. Go for a walk.

I love the Internet, I’m on it all the time. I couldn’t have written my book so quickly without it. Thanks to the Internet, I didn’t have to think. I could just cut and paste some boilerplate, bang out a book and make a quick book and show those New Republic bastards exactly who mattered. I don’t think it’s making more people connected than they were before, not at all.

It didn’t have to be this way, Lee.

I react very badly when mediocrity is associated with my name.

Well then, write well!

That is hard when you are “sprezzatura” and you have been banned from your own magazine’s message board. Will you give me a hug?

Only if you stop using the moniker “sprezzatura.”