Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth

A.O. Scott. Penguin Press, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59420-483-8
This stunning treatise on criticism from New York Times film critic Scott is a complete success, comprehensively demonstrating the value of his art. His first major assertion is that criticism is indeed an art, and that “a work of art is itself a piece of criticism.” From here he moves swiftly, with humor and insight, to show how art works hand in hand with critics’ “activity of loving demystification.” Scott ties criticism to philosophy, most compellingly citing Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Judgment, which asserts that “the judgment of taste... cannot be other than subjective.” He is equally comfortable discussing Rainer Maria Rilke’s sonnet “Archaic Torso of Apollo” and Marina Abramovic’s performance art piece The Artist Is Present. His most striking observations come in a chapter entitled “How to Be Wrong,” which Scott calls “the one job [critics] can actually, reliably, do.” He states that “choosing is the primal and inevitable mistake of criticism” as well as “the gesture that calls it into being.” Included are four “dialogues” in which Scott interviews himself, examining his assumptions and clarifying difficult points. This is a necessary work that may enter the canon of great criticism. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/23/2015
Release date: 02/09/2016
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-14-310997-6
Ebook - 978-1-101-98086-6
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