Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 10/5

We critics—I’m inserting myself into the club, so make way—are prone to bouts of self-doubt, self-questioning, self-loathing. What exactly is this weird activity that we perform with words, ideas and impressions harvested from the work of others? More often than not, I find myself without a good answer to this question. With that in mind, today’s quote comes from a text written by Guy Debord, “For a Revolutionary Judgment of Art”, in which Debord basically throws all us art critics under the revolutionary bus. As Debord tells it, we critics are all, by definition, crypto-reactionary parasites; rather than fighting the good fight against spectacular society, art critics are complicit witnesses in the perpetuation of spectacular society; and what’s more, not only do we do a shitty job of doing whatever it is that we do, we openly flaunt the shittiness with which we do it. Good grief. Not exactly what I felt like dwelling on this afternoon, Guy.

However, Debord is dead-wrong to imply that critics are complicit in the spectacle without intervening in it. How many films have benefitted from increased distribution as a result of critical praise? Isn’t there a multitude of  material consequences stemming from a critical thumbs-up or a pan? To say that the critic is a non-interventionist is—as I think André Bazin, Serge Daney and Susan Sontag demonstrated in their more theoretical writings, and as Roger Ebert plus any number of reknowned film critics have demonstrated through their influential public personas—a crock. Indeed, the whole point of criticism is to speak up within the context of a pre-existent discussion about something or other. Criticism is a form of intervention: to critique something is to transform the way in which it is perceived by others. So while I find this quote by Debord a bit bizarre, I nevertheless thought it worth reproducing here for you, my beloved reader. Enjoy.

Art criticism is a second-degree spectacle. The critic is someone who makes a spectacle out of his very condition as a spectator—a specialized and therefore ideal spectator, expressing his ideas and feelings about a work in which he does not really participate. He re-presents, restages, his own nonintervention in the spectacle. The weakness of random and largely arbitrary fragmentary judgments concerning spectacles that do not really concern us is imposed upon all of us in many banal discussions in private life. But the art critic makes a show of this kind of weakness, presenting it as exemplary.


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