Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Jeff Chatlos has, thank god, brought up something interesting to talk about. Since I came back to the blogosphere, there has been a meme drought, and this is an interesting one. The matter at hand is the assessment of worth or value in art that transcends the idea of what you “liked better.” This crisis of criteria apparently occurred to Jeff partially because he liked Resident Evil: Apocalypse better than Sky Captain ATWOT (which he admitted to grumbling after seeing), although he thought the later was a better movie.

Many good comments are to be had, most notably by (no surprise) David Fiore who, among many other brilliant posts, zings this paragraph:

"[T]his is precisely the problem with aesthetic hierarchies--it's all very well to claim that complex structure and susceptibility to multiple interpretations makes a work objectively 'more artful', but what happens when other readers begin finding all kinds of complexities and polysemies in a supposedly flat, 'for entertainment purposes only' text? This happens all of the time! And the humbling fact is that just about any work of art can be a steak, if the reader approaches it with a steak-sized appetite (can we change the metaphor to a gourmet oatmeal?)."

My posted response was simply to indicate the angle that everyone seemed to be toying with, but not quite tackling (typos fixed):
“It seems like Harold Bloom
is the elephant in the room (hey, iambic pentameter!).
Jeff mentioned "canon," but used the word hierarchy in the same breath, where hierarchy seems to be used in his assessment more as an indicator of qualitative order. The questions asked in the first post seem to lead to his list of discreet "values" which he posits could potentially be used as part of an objective assessment of the worth of an individual work of art. So the idea of strong and weak works within the canon is essentially ignored, as the "hierarchy" here is not a holistic relational framework, but only a calculus of worthiness using value criteria.

“So the unadressed thing is the Bloomian critical angle, if you will. How does an individual work relate to the canon of cop shows, superhero comics, fantasy novels, etc. Do they strengthen the tradition and rally the tropes (as prime example Harry Potter did with the child wizard sub-genre of fantasy), or do they have no impact (i.e. are "unsucessful") despite some high degree of "objective" worth (like, say, Alan Moore's Big Numbers).

“This is not the only way to view the issue of value or worth, but its hard to completely disregard this approach when talking in terms of genres built on tropes so well worn that they become equivalent to cliché. How does the work under scrutiny "hold up" in relation to the other works we are judging it against?”

Incidentally, after posting this, I read a subsequent post of Jeff’s, and I think I was wrong about his use of the word hierarchy, but I think he still had not tackled the “strong work/weak work” aspect of the question of relative value. I don’t think this critical approach is the end all be all, but I don’t think you can approach the question of worth in this day and age (especially within Jeff’s hierarchical groupings) and ignore the anxiety of influence factor.


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