13 May 2007

New Rules

Bill Maher (see also here) comes up with his every week, so now & again maybe I'll come up with a few of my own. Heed them as you will, even if mine aren't half as funny:
  • One Step Forward, Duceppe's Back: If you're going to decide to run for political office, don't change your mind a day later. Seriously, Gilles, your candidacy's now the stuff of Britneyesque legend, that equally comical icon of separation anxiety-- except her flirtations last longer.
  • A Little Blow In The Can: Friends don't let friends take pictures of them snorting coke in a bathroom so they can be posted online for the tittersome edification of computer-bound cultural onanists. (Insert your own down-Lo download jokes here.) Let this be a new rule for ladies: Don't go to the can with your so-called friends! Or, if you must: Don't let them into your god-damned stall. Or, if you really really must have them into that bastion of personal privacy: Tell them to keep their mother-effing camera-phones off! Sheesh. You'd think the star of Mean Girls would have learned something from the experience. Men, by the way, if the recent news is any indication, should never, ever, say anything to their daughters except, "Yes, sweetheart. You're not recording this, are you?"
  • The Gap: Poker commentators have to stop saying that players are "open-ended." Their hands may be, but unless there's something we don't know, the players probably aren't. At least not at that moment, anyway. (We hope.)
  • Caveat Lecter: Anthony Hopkins has to stop playing murderers. He's done the shtick to, um, death: the seething glare, the menacing intonations, the smarmy smiles. Like Laurence Olivier, he has now reached the stage where every performance is a caricature of a previous one, and Hannibal Lecter's the pretext for most of them. Also much like Olivier, Hopkins has mellowed into the class-for-cash actor in Hollywood, the token British Thesp whose presence ostensibly, and ergo automatically, lends legitimacy to a project. Instead, he has become the film version of a high-end whore, and I'm just waiting for him to end up hawking fava beans and Chianti as Olivier did Polaroids.
  • Tsk-y Business: Relatedly, if you finally get nominated for an Oscar, for God's sake, don't follow it up with a discarded Tom Cruise joint. Ryan ("My-Surname-Is-Not-Indicative") Gosling's option into Fracture suggests he needed cash, fast, and it's a trying shame watching him play the callow would-be legal-superstar who has to go through the oh-so-Cruisy too-damned-cocky-for-his-own-good path-to-redemption plot. (By a silly technicality that a first-year law-student would have caught, no less. So much for the superstar bit.) If you're a young actor building credibility in Hollywood, don't rush to destroy it by doing someone else's cast-off crap. Just ask Halle Berry.
  • Matter and Impertinency Mixed, or Here Comes The Knight: And lastly, scholars have to stop acting like needy, approval-desperate politicians.

    I've recently been reading through Michael Taylor's blandly but aptly titled Shakespeare Criticism In The Twentieth Century, and have subsequently been reminded, as if I needed it, what a piss-pot of intellectual churlishness criticism so often is. When it's not ridiculously acolytical, it's sneeringly ahistorical and bizarrely Oedipal, as critics seem preternaturally compelled to assail most viciously their most significant forerunners. It's an anxiety of influence, and an imperious one at that, as they smirk with Commodian disapproval at the work of greater minds largely for show. It's the classic case of scholarly communities slaughtering onetime sun-gods for their own survival, and then slaughtering them time and time again out of agonistic habit. To this day, few scholars-- and God knows there are enough of them-- have contributed as much to the study of Shakespeare as A.C. Bradley, or G. Wilson Knight, or Caroline Spurgeon; and yet, they're the figures most likely (still!) to be attacked, reduced, vilified and generally dismissed. (So too C.L. Barber, Frank Kermode, T.S. Eliot and Helen Vendler, among others.) Translation: Go after the Big Guys, especially the dead ones. It'll show how smart and enlightened you are. And implicitly, how superior you must be, you with your darlingly contemporary thought!

    Well, balls. It demonstrates pettiness, righteousness, and fundamental weakness at the intellectual core. It's one thing to engage and to challenge intellectual and critical tradition; it's quite another to make your own name by belittling more Protean thinkers for your own aggrandizement. So where's the New Rule, you're asking. Here it is: Make your name in your own bloody terms. We remember Marcus Aurelius for his imperial legacy, including the Meditations; we remember Commodus, if we do, only as the guy who came after and did an appropriately craptacular job in the same position. Nigglesome disputation seldom accomplishes anything. Inspiration, breadth of vision, sincere negotiation with the lessons of the past: these qualities more usually do. It's one thing to want to make new tracks in the snow, to use one of Taylor's metaphors. It's quite another, however, to piss on the tracks left by others with much bigger boots. And it's pointless: those tracks are still there, and now they've had human highlighters taken to them in most odious fashion.

    Call me antiquated or old-fashioned, but what's so wrong with giving credit where credit's due? I reread Bradley and Knight at least once a year, regardless of need, because they're still worth reading. Can I say the same of most of the scholarship written in the past twenty or thirty years? Not even close. Most of it, in fact, barely warrants a preliminary glance, largely because it's predictable, cluttered and rigorously half-coherent. It's also painfully dull, and when combined with that ingracious and tendentious sniggering that's all-too-typical of the genre, I feel little remorse in tossing it so casually aside. It's the classic contradictional scenario, as historicists gladly de-historicize (how's that for tortured language?), and arbiters of intellectual tolerance practise everything but. But respect? Natch. Let's just say it's more common in the breach than in the observance.

3 comments:

j said...

just guessing- you don't like greenblatt or eagleton huh?

that list on shakespeare criticism was like some reading list flashback -ewewewew...

RK said...

RK's New Rule:

Be aware that the New Trend is (Reasoned) Enthusiasm. Curmudgeonhood is so over. Like, really, I mean, but so black jeans, y'know whaddi mean? So, yeah, we do NOT talk about shrubs except for Pruning, we do NOT talk about Greenleaf or Derrydown at all, and I am perfectly ready to exchange risotto ai funghi recipes with anyone, or indeed discuss the Holy Roman Empire, till the Bohemian cows come limping home.

Dr J said...

@ j: Eagleton isn't a bad writer, but I find his critical judgments specious. Greensleeves, on the other hand, represents much of what I despise most about the current academic world.

@ RK: Enthusiasm?!? What's that? I have long forgotten. Besides, I may be many things, but trendy ain't one of them....

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