cover image Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination

Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination

Lee Siegel. Basic Books, $31.95 (337pp) ISBN 978-0-465-07800-4

Is the increasingly permeable border between art and life leading to a world in which the arts can no longer create meaningful original experiences? Celebrated critic Lee Siegel tackles this question and others in a collection of essays that restore creativity and joie de vivre to the art of criticism. Sigel claims that in an age of irony, commodification and self-interest, ""the work of art itself has come under suspicion,"" making it ""harder and harder to make a work of art that does not conform to ... trivializing media."" As a result, contemporary artists ""have given up on the idea of art as an autonomous end"" and contemporary criticism is reduced to ""a cautious blandness."" As a corrective, Siegel's witty and piercing gaze meanders from J.K. Rowling to D.H. Lawrence, from Stanley Kubrick to Kevin Spacey, reinvigorating both over- (Harry Potter) and under-analyzed (Ilya Repin) topics with rare lan. Even in the heavily-tread territory of popular culture, Siegel uncovers fertile ground for new insight, criticizing the critics on their views of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and proposing a new method of understanding the popularity of Rowling's ""children's"" books. Siegel's focus ranges so far afield that few readers will be grabbed by every topic, but the strength of his writing will draw readers into such obscure subjects as Soviet social realist painting and Dante's career in Florentine politics. After all, the critic must operate not as a glorified reviewer, says Siegel, but as a true writer who is ""witty, and course, and antic, and subtle."" This collection should convince even the most cynical reader that such criticism is still possible.