Good critics are more like thoughtful guides. Stanley Kauffman in The New
Republic, for example, inspired me to see many a film.
Paris, Charles de Gaulle.
On May 25, 2022, at 3:29 PM, Torgeir Fjeld <t.fjeld1@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Critics, or would that be gatekeepers, eh? There is, nevertheless, the
sentiment that any review, even a dismissive one, is better than no review.
We'll see how that works when the reviews of the 50 Shades of Sue Gray report
starts ticking in to our news desk.
In any case, deep, well-shaped prose, David. Keep going.
Poland / Norway
On Sun, 22 May 2022, 22:05 david ritchie, <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
“Dogs are not ambi-dickus,” said Mimo.
Mimo and I have a new game: explain something that is difficult to describe,
or at least begin somewhere interesting.
“What was that?” I was a little slow on the uptake.
“Hamish has a preference for lifting the rear right leg.”
“And you know what Dick means?’
“Do you know what gastrosargophogi are?”
Mimo, “Well then, don’t come all snooty about Dick.”
I’m beginning to understand that what she sees of our world, or perceives
somehow, is episodic and foggy. Add to this the fact that she extrapolates
from what she knows to explain the incomprehensible, and you get this kind
“Gods were bowling.”
Me, “Indoors or out?”
Me, “That’ll be cricket?”
“They were quiet and tense, and when the one heaved the missile occasionally
they jumped and shouted. No idea why. Mysterious.”
“Cricket. Did you enjoy it?”
“Passed the time.”
Me, “I discovered the Resistance.”
“The Resistance. Weans up at the school shoot me a sign as they walk past
on the track. They’ve been told about ‘stranger danger,’ and lord knows I
don’t want authorities to interfere with Hamish’s exercise, so I generally
stand where everyone can see me, half-turned away from the kids. If they
say, ‘Nice dog,’ I say something brief and polite, ‘I think so too.’ End of
conversation except when Moses wants to say what’s on his mind. Moses is a
Mimo, “Appenzeller was like that sometimes. Very full of herself.”
I almost said, “Unlike you.” But didn’t. “I noticed that the kids would
wave in a particular way, elbows tight into their sides, hands low, backs to
the teachers. A quick wave, a smile, walk on, like we were all part of some
secret compact, which I call the Resistance. The Resistance of the good and
“As opposed to?”
“Bigger kids. I saw this week nascent Middle School conflicts. Four girls
on the climbing frame, beginning of puberty. Biggest one leads the other
two away from the smallest, who looks forlorn. The kids have instructions
attached to the wall of the school about what to do when your feelings are
hurt: walk away, go tell the others how you feel, join a different group,
start another game. She tried each of these, poor thing. Once the group
saw that there was power in diminishing her, they pushed on, went over to
watch the boys wrestling. Last I saw the lone one was waiting for recess to
It’s wise I think to acknowledge that much in life is not good. Chickens
spend the whole day hunting and pecking—I’d compare their work to typists of
the Second World War, to demonstrate a not-very-good image, but you can
manage fine with your own mental film of chickens wandering.
I used to have chats with art students, steering them away from comparison
between their art and what they saw in the museum. Some students weren’t
going to the museum—to which they had free entrance— because they found the
experience dispiriting. A tiny percentage of what people think of as art is
accepted by museums. And a percentage of that is in the galleries. What you
see is the tip of an iceberg on top of an iceberg. I don’t think I heled
much; they remained like the girl on the playground.
I tried to explain scholarly criticism to Mimo. “The great thing a good
critic does is show you why and how something is actually good by some
measure and why and how it might be thought the opposite. Critics, like
other scholars, expect to be proved wrong; they should have a full measure
of doubt. And they should be both well-educated and open to possibility.”
“We’re back to cricket?”
‘No, I’m explaining critics.”
“How’s the bowling?”
I persevered, “There was a movie review in the New York Times recently that
finished, ‘I’m still struggling with this movie and look forward to seeing
it again.’ Critics in the past would have finished out the struggle and
then explained consequences. Another new critic said, approximately, ‘my
friends and I discuss this a lot.’ And…?! The world currently reminds me
of the Soviet army when Stalin got serious about purging anyone he thought
might in any way threaten his continued viciousness. Some young critics
don’t seem to have a clue.”
“Very serious,” Mimo said, in a way that conveyed she had no idea what I was
talking about or why it mattered.
“On the other hand,” I said, “Jeremy Clarkson’s predictable idiocies amuse
me. I’ve been thinking about the relationship of surprise to recognition in
humor. Clarkson has made enough money to buy huge acreage in the Cotswolds,
and a Lamborghini…tractor. I’m watching ‘Clarkson’s Farm’ on the television
not because I have any desire to put winter wheat into the ground, or to
drive up and down a field dragging behind a machine that would shred flesh
in an instant, but because I’m amused and look forward to seeing how he
deals with chickens.”
“Easiest thig is to talk with them. Discuss needs and feelings.”
“Some people think he’s a dickhead.”
“You want to explain that?”
For a while, we sat companionably and enjoyed the sunshine and flowers of
Mimo suddenly sang, “Oh the flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra-la…”
“…have nothing to do with the case.”
Mimo, “I’ve got to take under my wing, tra-la…”
“A most unattractive old thing, tra-la.”
“With a caricature of a face.”
Somehow singing gave us both great pleasure, critics or no critics, art or
not. Life, death, buoyed up by a childish wave.