Bad but Great?

March 22, 2012

Was the most influential writer in 19th-century America a bad writer? Or was he a great writer? Or was he, against all odds, both? An extraordinary article puts forward the claim that he was. Whether or not you agree with the writer’s conclusion, his way of getting there is thought-provoking. And it certainly provoked a lot of interesting correspondence, much of it quite vehement. I kept thinking about how this kind of discussion could apply to music criticism in an enlightening way.

That article and the response to it illustrate some of the assertions in an article that appeared yesterday in The Guardian. In it an art critic says the time for pronouncements from people of his profession has come and gone. “Criticism today is not about delivering truths from on high, but about striking a spark that lights a debate,” he says. Certainly the first article above (about Edgar Allan Poe, if you didn’t guess) fulfils the latter part of that decription.

Crowdsourcing music criticism? It ought to happen; it’s bound to happen; it’s happening. So far, we have to sift through a lot of silt to find the gold nuggets, but that will sort itself out over time. And, in 75 years or so, if that hasn’t happened, remind me that I owe you a dinner.

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