Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Critique of Critics

A Critique of Critics

Self-aggrandizement masquerading as "critical objectivity"

"Maybe something has been achieved, but it was not I who deserves the credit for that. The credit must be given to my opponents. They were the ones who really helped me."

- Arnold Schoenberg


The self-esteem of the common critic often seems to be based on the mistaken assumption that what one listens to determines one's essential "worth" as a person. In other words, the accidents of musical taste determine one's place in a hierarchy of being. This is not any different, really, from any other form of snobbery, placing or predicating "worth" not on action but on a perception of the world. The critic, in this case, has evolved a certain highly specialized way of viewing music, and can not look outside of that form of interpretation as his self-esteem, his sense of identity, place, moral "worth", is based on it. "Who will I be," he wonders, "if I am not the one who listens as I listen? Who hears as I hear?" One will notice, in the act of examining the writing of these critics, their reviews, interviews, articles, etc. and most importantly the "hidden texts" of their email correspondence, message board notes, asides, comments, conversation, etc. their constant need to denigrate [they call it "critique"] the works of others in order to maintain a certain "standard" which they can not transcend. This exercise is an expression of power: it posits a hierarchy of taste and artistic principles, an aesthetic objectivity, and it judges based on the location of a musical group's aesthetics in relation to the main beliefs of the critic. Subjectivity is offered as objectivity - but why? This standard is not only their crutch, their backbone, their moral guide, it is also their method of interpretation or perception, and it is a reflection of the self they wish to present to the world. It is a self-created image, a construction/fabrication, an alter-ego, both a method of judgment and a construct of principles by which they want to be known. Their reviews are often just this: a demonstration of the principles which they desire to have, an exhibition of the person they wish to be. The signature below the demonstration seals this. An exercise in self-overcoming? Perhaps. A psychological exercise in resentment? Almost certainly. A critic denigrates in order to make himself appear "better" than what he critiques. It is a constant ritual of ascendancy. Or is it? Why does the critic really write reviews? That seems to be the essential question.


I. Self-esteem: a confidence and satisfaction in oneself, self-respect, self-conceit.

II. Worth: the value of something measured by its qualities or by the esteem in which it is held.

III. Hierarchy: the classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing; a graded or ranked series.

IV. Perception: quick, acute, and intuitive cognition, appreciation; a capacity for comprehension.

V. Aesthetics: 1. a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. 2. a particular theory or conception of beauty or art. 3. a pleasing appearance or effect.

Main points and Opinions:

I. The accidents of musical taste determine one's place in a hierarchy of being.

Why the hierarchy? Obviously critics do not create a hierarchy of musical tastes in order to place themselves at the bottom of it. Secondly: they do not create the notion of "musical tastes" to negate or denigrate their own beliefs. A critic will never attack his own position when he is in the process of demonstrating it - unless the meaning is ironic and he is once again, while in the process of reviewing, removing himself from the realm of the reviewer. A paradox? Not really.

A hierarchy presupposes two main things: leaders and followers, those at the top of the pyramid and those who are below them. The ones who are considered "beneath" the leaders do not feel the need for a hierarchy, obviously, and so they abrogate it in word and deed. The ones at the top of this pyramid have a vested interest not only in maintaining the structure of the hierarchy themselves by constantly buttressing it with ideas, philosophies, tenets, rules, regulations, etc. [justifications of their position, to themselves and those beneath] but in convincing the ones beneath them that such a hierarchy is, in effect, real and natural - that it was meant to be. A hierarchy is based on an even higher order of being that says that all hierarchies must exist, the objective view of existence.

The hierarchy is a reflection of a method for viewing/perceiving existence itself: the world of the objective, concrete, definable, knowable, unchanging reality. If reality is objective then hierarchies must exist, they come into being as the laws of reality are learned, manipulated, and absorbed by those who would gain any rank of ascendancy in this world. Objective reality posits a hierarchy of the learned and the unlearned, the learned having grasped a "secret" knowledge that is then hidden away again and made a source of power - adepts manipulate reality through its own laws, and only adepts are able to "reach" this realm, where the "true, secret" nature of things are revealed. The ignorant masses must appeal to the adepts to be given the "keys" to reality. If reality is objective then naturally the ignorant must look with respect on those who have mastered some part of its immutable, eternal laws. The questions, then, are two, and are related: 1) Does the reviewer write in order to spread his ascendant knowledge, to "help" the ignorant, or does he place himself on this pedestal as a "master" for some other reason? 2) If reality is not objective, and in this particular case, the aesthetics of music and style are not definable, set in stone, something to be learned as physical law, does the reviewer then try to make this objectivity appear? Does he try to create an objective reality only in order to prop up his own position as a "master" of the objective? Does objectivity appear only as a psychological need of the reviewer, to justify his own existence? Is all objectivity only an illusion to create, maintain, and support power structures?

II. Subjectivity is offered as objectivity.

In a truly subjective world, or a world where subjectivity was embraced as being the factual nature of reality, a critic's role would be mimimized - to the point of negation. If all opinions are equally valid then paying attention to one opinion over another would be inefficient, useless, futile. One would listen to another's opinions if one were interested in the person giving them, as one looks at the artwork or effusions/expressions of a person as being "keys" in some way to their personality. In a truly subjective world, however, placing their opinion on a pedestal and regarding it as somehow "more true", "more realistic" than one's own would be ridiculous, completely contrary to logic. Anyone who claimed this would be seen as a fool. In order for critics to put forward the notion of their own superiority they must first deny the realm of the subjective, or at least press it into the background of their reader's consciousness. In the realm of the completely objective, there is only one path towards truth, and one either sees it or one doesn't. The one who "sees" it is naturally in a position of superiority compared to the poor helpless souls who struggle onwards without a guide! A review, for the time it takes to read it, and as a resident seducer of opinion [an instrument for persuasion staying resident in the reader's mind], creates a completely objective reality through its manipulation of language. All reviews are arguments, although exactly what they are arguing for is not always evident in the surface meaning[s] of the language. All arguments have two parts, premises and a conclusion, and the purpose of the argument is to make the conclusion seem to derive from the premises. However, as any student of logic knows, there are many more methods of making this appear to be so than there are actual methods of ascertaining a true correspondence. In other words, seduction and illusion are built into the very nature of arguments. A reviewer creates an objective world wherein he is the sole arbiter of taste, where he is the undeniable leader of aesthetic judgment. All of the critic's reviews serve to build this world, this objective reality, to make it into an absolute system, a complete and self-sustaining structure of classification that revolves around the critic's will. Convincing the reader of objectivity, in this case, really only means seducing him to confound the subjective desire of the critic for an implacable external objectivity, a fundamental reality that can not exist outside of the manipulation of fiction. With this idea of "objectivity" comes authority and power, which is what the critic really wishes for. In this sense, and in a few others, a review is a self-portrait of the critic that tells us not only what he deeply desires but what, at the exact time it was written, he really needed to express. The medium of the review-in-itself, the surface language of the subject, the arguments and conclusions drawn, are only signs of another level of meaning, another form and plane of articulation.

Is reviewing a work of art a philanthropic exercise? Some may treat it as such, but the question has to be asked: what does a reviewer receive in remuneration for the effort of writing the review? If it isn't the ego-building reward of being a "good Samaritan" herding the faithful flock of readers towards the "right" goal, or the pleasure a reviewer gets out of just hearing himself speak, re-creating and affirming his existence again and again, what could it be? Why does the reviewer write reviews? This returns us to the objective hierarchy of being. If a critic stops writing, if he stops seeing himself as a critic, as someone who has "earned" or has been given a fund of insight that raises him above the masses and lets him glimpse the "true, objective" nature of art, then what is he? How many critics write only in order to be critics? How many write only in order to keep the idea they have of themselves? How many critics are reading this right now and saying "Of course, that directly describes people I know, but it doesn't apply to me at all!"

III. A review is a self-created image, a construction/fabrication, an alter-ego, both a method and a construct of principles by which the critic wants to be known.

Self-created image: a review is a presentation, before the jury of the community of the reviewer's knowledge of compositional principles [supposedly, hardly ever so in reality], his knowledge of the history of music and the way it is "progressing" or not, his knowledge of the various genres and micro-styles within the movement and how they relate, their political functions, their ascendancy at that time or their decline, and his knowledge of the band he is reviewing: their own history, their struggles, their desires, their will to create. The review is also a demonstration of judgement, the reviewer places the work of art in its "proper" place based on how it fulfills its perceived function: if it satisfies its own goals, if it meets its creators' desires for it, if it "advances" the genre or larger movement at all in terms of style changes or new ideas, or if it satisfies the reviewer's own opinions of what it must/might be.

Construction/fabrication: all reviews are fictions. They are a narrative that relates the encounter between a reviewer and the art object. All accidents of fiction apply: not only what the reviewer is trying to communicate, objectively, within the grammar and surface meaning of the review, but also what he communicates if every word, phrase, sentence, and "judgment" is taken in the literal and figurative sense of a sign of something else, some other meaning, some other message being communicated beneath the surface, underneath the exterior meaning that often only acts as a cloak to disguise it. One must remember that the first reader of the review is the reviewer himself. The review is the most meaningful to the reviewer, who contains in himself both the desires for communication displayed therein as well as all of the potential for "correct" interpretation [meaning some actual correspondence between the desire for writing and the meanings that are created]. A review is a microcosm, a reviewer standing in front of a mirror and willing something into being…the language and judgements of the review represent not only what he sees in the mirror but what he wants to see.

Alter-ego: for a time, out of time, the reviewer gets to perform as the one he wants to be. In the act of writing the review he wears the mask of his hero-self and the review becomes a drama, a demonstration, of this self coming into conflict with a work of art, a repository of signs. How ironic is it that the work of art is usually, also, the work of a group of people acting out their fantasies as hero-selves? In the act of reviewing a work is there ever an honest confrontation between two naked, authentic, undisguised selves? Or is all music only the weaving of veils, as the writing of reviews surely is?

Method of principles: all reviews presuppose a meta-structure of essential aesthetics, and the review is both a demonstration of these principles in action, as they interpret, value, judge, and condemn/praise a work as well as an illustration of the principles themselves. Thus reviews are written to justify their own existence, the aesthetic laws are demonstrated in order to justify their efficacy, their efficiency, their pertinence, their practicality. If an aesthetic system can not be demonstrated to be "successful" or "higher" than the system of others [including the one the band is propounding in their work] it must be discarded. Is the review also the drama [some would say a tragedy, I say comedy] of these principles in decay, coming into contact with material that changes them - that calls for their obliteration? What critic ever writes in order to lay bare the weakness of his own vision? How many critics are attracted to criticism because they will be given the chance to examine works of art that overwhelm their ability to "interpret" them? How many critics are constantly overwhelmed and yet do not have the courage to say so?

These principles, taken together, are the form by which the reviewer wants to be known on the aesthetic plane. They are the groundwork of his identity as a critic.

IV. A critic denigrates in order to make himself appear "better" than what he critiques.

And why not? What other opportunities will he ever have for pre-eminence? If he can play an instrument, he offers himself the chance to exhibit his convictions through action. However, this involves risk, and much more exertion than writing texts. Songwriting, music writing, is extremely labor intensive, the ratio [often, among the more "successful" groups] of music written to music actually used in the construction of a song is enormous. While experimentation is necessary, the powers of vision, foresight, forethought, spatial thinking, and abstract comprehension needed to complete a musical work are grounded in concrete principles of composition: there is simply a point at which pure inspiration is put aside and the artisan goes to work in order to refine, polish, and revise a work until it seems to meet his internal needs. A musician can not "fake" the demonstration of musical talent, but a writer can often create the illusion that he knows much more than he actually does. A musical work, like a poem, painting, statue, etc. is both a process and a finished "product". It is much easier to demonstrate one's opinions of artistic principles by writing about art. For those who do not have musical talent or a special gift for artistic work, or the patience to apply themselves to the study of an instrument, writing is a method by which they can both participate within the artistic world and still have their voice heard without having to demonstrate it artistically within the realm of the artistic genre they are describing. I use this last qualifier because there are many critics who consider what they do to be in fact a form of art, but not even they are foolish enough to label their writing on music as a form of music in itself. Some critics stay with writing [instead of progressing to another art] because they are convinced this is the best way they can make an impact on the art world. They may or may not be right. A critic, as has been demonstrated above more than once, can only claim dominance by asserting a) the objective nature of aesthetic principles and b) the hierarchy of such principles whereby his convictions are in a superior position. He often writes in order to display a fundamental lack in the aesthetic principles or priorities of the group he is reviewing - this judgment is based on his conviction that his principles are "higher", closer to the objective "reality" of art, more refined, more sophisticated. The demonstration of this takes place in the microcosm of the review and upon the suspended disbelief [the suspended critical function] of the one who reads at the exact time the review is being read. Once the reader looks up from the page he is reading or away from his computer screen, the spell is often broken. Reality [read: sanity] re-asserts itself. Very powerful critics can change the personal opinions of their readers through the mechanism of eloquence alone…I will not say the "use of reason" because the review, in itself, is a seduction, a prolonged persuasion, and prospers when reason is left behind. Belief, rather, is called for, faith in the knowledge of the critic and the entire function of the review: that reviews are worth reading, that they say something worth noticing. A critic's most powerful ally in his attempts at seduction are the belief the reader has that the critic knows more about his subject than he does, which is one reason the critic is constantly, in almost every review he writes, trying to make this illusion manifest itself through critical language and its arsenal of references, inferences, and asides. He may only subtly refer to it once, or [like some critics I have read] his entire review may be an attempt to convince the reader of this fact, but it will make its presence known as it is one of the basic reasons for the critic's existence. It is, ultimately, the sole reason for the review being written in the first place. Good critics know their audience, they know how much of the inner working of the review they can show without losing the suspension of disbelief or faltering into deliberate irony. They know also, at this stage, how to appear to be ironic in order to gain sympathy, while making points and carrying across cogitations that are fundamentally sallies of bald-faced seduction. Writers, experts at sleight-of-hand magic, know how to point to a useless mechanism as an example of the "inner workings" of their judgment [distracting attention] while following a completely different path towards their opinion behind their reader's back. An effective critic knows that given enough "atmosphere" the reader will seduce himself. The reader often actually believes that reading the review will place him in a position of superiority in relation to people who have not read it. For a time, the reviewer lets him borrow his robes of office - as long as he doesn't write his own reviews!

V. What are the functions of the review?

Not only what it is meant to do, how it is meant to serve, but also how it really operates in life, how it actually serves…what meaning does a review have for the different people encountering it?

A reviewer: a) describes the music in his own words, b) describes the music using the words given to him by a label, [cheerful plagiarism masquerading as "promotion"], record labels love this, c) describes the music in a comment on how the label described it, d) describes it in a comment on how everyone else describes it, e) describes it in a comment on how a certain other writer or group sees it [political function], f) promotes it, emphasizing the good over the bad, sells it, advertises it in his own words, g) denigrates it, emphasizing the bad over the good [this is a normal "critique"], h) mocks it openly, abuses it and its creators, as an attack on the music style, i) mocks it as an attack on the label [personal vendetta], j) mocks it as an attack on the band, k) mocks it as an attack of the followers of the band or the musical style, l) mocks it to openly align himself against "cheerleader" or "positive" reviewers, once again as a political statement, m) praises it to please the band, n) praises it to please the label [sycophancy], o) praises it to please the fans of the genre, p) praises it to satisfy some other condition of his own aesthetics, q) praises it to attack "negative reviewers" and their ethics, r) praises it to attack a specific other review/reviewer [vendetta, again, or envy], or s) praises it in order to appear "less" than the band, another form of promotion [most people now mistake this as being ironic], t) mocks it in order to appear "above" the aesthetics of the band - both are political/psychological functions. All of these review types are, at the same time, personal expressions, political formulations, signs of philosophical convictions, or are demonstrations of what the reviewer desires to be "read into" his text and thus into his character.

How many reviewers only review themselves? How many reviews are confessions?

Thus a review is a) a text in itself, b) an overarching message to the reader [containing, in itself, many different messages], c) a sign of a reviewer's political position, d) a sign of a reviewer's aesthetic position, e) a manipulated sign that can be any of these things and yet have no connection to a reviewer's "real" reaction to an album.

What is a "real" reaction, though? Is it the reviewer's sympathetic reaction, his emotional reaction, his instinctive, visceral reaction? Or is the reaction formatted by his creation of the fiction [the review] the "real" reaction we must take as authentic? Is there only one reaction, or are there multiple ones existing at the same time? Is a review a record of an opinion that must change, based on its own nature? Is a review only one side of a multi-faceted reaction, and so doomed to a failure of expression? Or are the multiple meanings encoded within a review attempts on the part of a critic to communicate more than one reaction at a time? If a reaction is the result of the collision between a work of art and its attendant signs/messages and the mind of the reviewer [with all of its prejudices, needs, desires, weaknesses, etc.] then does a reaction necessarily change not only when any of the characteristics/factors change, but as they are perceived to change? The phenomenon of aesthetic opinions on art changing over time in the same person is well documented. Then we must also say: f) a review is a record of the meeting between one person and one work of art at one point in time. Change the time, the place, the attitude and mindset of the reviewer at the time, the immediate perception of the work and its attendant signs, etc. and one has a different reaction. Change the needs of the reviewer for expression at that particular time and one has a different review. All of these variables show how objectivity is truly impossible - and yet critics will still allow the reader to assume its existence, given half a chance.

Minor points and The Obvious:

I. The critic as intermediary, a middleman between the resources of labels and the fans.

All networks of producers, products, and consumers have their points of distribution. When a producer/manufacturer or creator can not control all aspects of the distribution and dissemination of his product, no matter the nature of this item/idea/art, he relies on others to efficiently deliver the product to consumers. This is often the role the critic fills in the cycle of production, he is both a pusher and one who negates, he can create a demand for a product but he can also attempt to destroy it. The power this role has for the critic is often one of the most attractive parts of the identity, and it seduces some men completely, even though the power they are given is fundamentally limited.

II. The critic - a necessary evil? Have mp3s superseded his function? If so, and if reviews are practically futile, useless, etc. do they automatically become "art"?

"All art is quite useless." - Oscar Wilde.

Mp3s have changed the nature of reviewing albums. The only critics who can not admit this are the ones who are trying to deny the power of mp3s in order to protect their self-given functions as hierophants of taste. Whereas, before, people had to read reviews in order to get an impression of what an album sounded like or a judgment of its "worth", they can now hear the album in its entirety before they buy it and make their own decisions. This completely changes the function of a review to a purely subjective exercise: a narrative of self-expression, no more. A critic can no longer pretend to have exclusive access to an album and stand as a middleman between the people who produced the music and the people who want to hear it. In other words he can not "interpret" the music for the masses and he can not shape their idea of it as long as they have the ability to listen to it and decide for themselves. If they listen to the mp3s and still can not decide what they think about it or what the band is trying to say through the music, then it is not the musician's fault or the fault of the displaced critic. In the absence of critics and critical priorities all listeners of music must determine, develop, build, and decide their own tastes, their own aesthetics. This is empowerment, freedom in action. Why do so many critics rail against the use of mp3s? They want to control the means of production for critical opinion. For those who ask: "what mp3s will I then listen to?" I can only say: somewhere between all or none, depending on the amount of time you want to spend. Music that is transcendent, music that actually says something, has the ability to stay resident for long periods of time. There must be very few albums in existence that are completely meaningful and precious to only one person [!], but notice: this does not posit an objectivity of taste but rather a relationship of individual subjectivities. Tastes are formed in a community but given their most meaningful form in the listening individual himself. By associating with people in a small society that share your interests, whether it is an online community or a real world group of friends, you will eventually hear about every album that is worth listening to. Trust me on this one. The works that fall on the deaf ears of the community will be recycled in their turn - the listeners who have obscure/completely individual tastes always search for what pleases them and ignore the main thrust of the community in any case. By archiving all works and refusing to apply a hierarchy to them we empower, once again, the vital function of artistic exploration and personal investigation. We dissolve the tyranny of the objective view of reality. This function of community is the guiding principle of the underground, and the notion of a community of equals automatically aligns itself against the hierarchy of the critic and his adoring, ignorant masses. With the ability, now, to not only instantly communicate enthusiasms but also the power to display an example of them by transferring mp3s, music fans increase both their power to develop their aesthetics through constant conflict with alien/unheard works of art as well as their effectiveness in communicating exactly why they prefer one work over another. What could be a more efficient form of communication than actually showing someone else the work one is talking about, and asking them to experience it for themselves? What could be more natural than wanting to share what you like with someone who is important to you? Once again, this also dissolves the authority of the critic and places the burden of judgment and decision on the shoulders of every listener, where it should be. In a world where everyone has instant access to a work of art and all opinions are equally valid, the review can only one have one essential meaning: it becomes, in the public eye, what it always was anyway - a completely subjective, personal, solipsistic item of expression, a self-portrait of the reviewer. It is the reviewer talking to himself, through the imaginary intermediary of a reading public that might or might not exist. It is the self-created critic whistling in the dark. It is the essence of art.

Rule I. When all art is free, those who consider themselves to be the sole owners, proprietors, creators, and avatars of art will cease to exist. The hierarchy will be removed. This is necessary in order to return art to the realm of personal expression for each and every individual, where it belongs.

Rule II. When the tyranny of objectivity is dissolved, those who consider themselves to be sole arbiters of taste will cease to exist. The hierarchy will be removed or, rather, it will be seen in reality as it always was before: a fiction, a seduction, an illusion.

III. The critic serving an economic function.

Only in that he can point others towards the buying and selling of music! Labels use him in order to advertise in the same way that musicians use labels. Critics in other fields of endeavor can often make or break an artist's career: take restaurant reviewers as an example. They control the media, the source of information by which consumers arrive at spending decisions, and so they control the traffic of the consumers to a certain extent. This power is wielded to manage or direct restaurants, for different effects [both bad and good], but its main purpose is to enable to critic to assume an identity that he cherishes, a certain self-importance that he can not seem to live without. The first purpose must be psychological, because only psychological drives can explain problems of identity and purpose. The music critics in metal, however, do not have quite this level of power. I could lay this at the door of some kind of "essential rebelliousness" in the metal devotee, some quality which allows him to willfully disregard criticism and seek out what he himself enjoys, but I think rather that it just comes about because metal reviewers are not even half the writers other genre critics are. There has always been a certain taint of the amateur in metal criticism, and even the most committed, enthusiastic, professional metal critic seems to have a bad conscience and a willingness, at any point, to admit that he doesn't take himself seriously. That would of course be a lie.

IV. Do critics make good art? What is good art? Have critics improved the state of the metal scene? Are there more "good" bands now, with this wholesale proliferation of critics?

The widespread use of the mass media came about in the early '90s in the print medium and afterward in the late '90s-early '00s came the explosion of internet criticism. It is a cliché and trite point now to bemoan the decline of songwriting in the underground over the last fifteen years. What does this mean? As criticism became ascendant in the scene the "amount" or level of songwriting skill seems to have deteriorated. While this seems to be related, in fact no real connection can be drawn, either in a positive, negative, or ironic sense. The two phenomena are simply disconnected, they don't intersect at any point. Why? Criticism has no real effect on songwriting principles, guidelines, and structure because critics almost never apply themselves to the minutiae of the songwriting art. Instead they focus on the ephemeral qualities of the artwork, either their reflection in the mirror of that art, or how they perceive the piece based on their own subjective criteria. While searching for methods to imply and assume a hierarchy of objectivity, the critics always miss one legitimate area of displaying expertise: the demonstration of the songwriting art. The problem is that…if they knew anything at all about this art they would probably be musicians and not critics. Are there "better" bands than ever now? Has metal songwriting improved, become more focused, powerful, does it have a greater range of effects now and is it more confident in that flexibility? No. The objectivity that critics pretend to hold does not exist. Critics also usually claim that the relationship between a musician and a critic is symbiotic, however this leads one to ask: is the exchange of useful information and resources in this relationship equal? In a true symbiotic relationship each partner in the union receives something of value equal to what he gives up. If all critics were to stop writing immediately, would musicians stop playing music? No. If all musicians stopped playing, though, would critics have any reason to exist? No. Isn't this actually a parasitic relationship? A host prospers without its parasites, but parasites can not function without a host. Critics must have something to critique, or they can not exist. They have a vested interest in keeping the host alive, but not healthy, that is: a world with only "good" music would not need critics either.

V. Does a critic only delineate pleasure? Does he only point the way to pleasure? But if all music and music appreciation is subjective, can a critic's writing really matter?

In purely pragmatic terms, the critic writes for his own pleasure, because his writing is a sort of make-believe, a masque, a play. The words are his playthings, his toys, and the effects they produce, the way he can manipulate others using language, is the delight of the game. There are some critics who are sadists. There are a great majority who are cowards, saying things in print which they wouldn't dare say in real life. This is a result of the intoxicating power of seeing one's words in print, and presupposing a constant gallery/audience of readers. These critics always feel that a silent majority of their readers agree with what they are saying, and so this gives them the strength of a group instead of the recklessness of the individual. They are usually mistaken on all counts. The critic is a leader without followers, or rather: someone who wants to lead, but doesn't have the courage, intelligence, perspicacity, or drive to lead by example. Instead the critic just talks about leading, and his admiration for "other leaders" who subscribe to his self-created system of hierarchical beliefs.

VI. Is taking "advice" on an album…willing oneself to not be subjective?

There are many people who would feel more secure in a completely objective, defined world. They need this security in the same way that their opposites need to dissolve it. There are those who, given the chance, would rather have someone else think for them.

VII. Albums are items of experience in the aesthetic life, they must be assimilated or "mastered". In the aesthetic life, as in reality, experiences must be "interpreted" and assimilated in order for there to be advancement, growth.

This is an interesting proposition. If, in reality, the maturation process of the personality and the gaining of wisdom [which, taken at face value, mainly means the avoidance of pain] is effected through the "triumph" of the will, the encounters between items of experience and the individual personality and the resulting learning procedure, then in the aesthetic life can it be offered that works of art must be encountered, assimilated, and "overcome" in order for there to be some kind of growth in the artist's understanding of his own powers for expression? Does an artist have to return to beginning of art and trace its entire history in order to arrive at a truly legitimate, personal, authentically "modern" form of expression? Or are all modern forms of art legitimate in that they carry their entire ancestry hidden inside of themselves, as a genetic code? Does the critic feel he has to denigrate and "rise above" what he deems "inferior" in order to reach a higher plane of understanding, a realm where aesthetic actualization and enjoyment will be somehow better, more pure, more satisfying? Who enjoys music more - the "ignorant" fan or the jaded critic? Who receives more joy from listening to music? Who is more enthusiastic about the process and experience of listening? Is a "mastery" of the form a destruction of the joy inherent in listening? Do critics seek to remove the mysteries of art in order to lessen the potency of the artist? Do they criticize because they are afraid of the power music has over people, and over themselves?

VIII. Critics write to justify the ability and meaning of writing. Critics write in order to justify why they are not making music. Why the description instead of a demonstration of aesthetic beliefs? Why do some write and some play? Why do some act and some just describe action?

Already demonstrated.

IX. Qualitative vs. quantitative: what makes "better" music? Can it be objective? Is it "more" of something, "less" of something else?

Impossible to determine. "Better" is in the eye of the beholder, depending on what need of his the music satisfies. If it satisfies this need more or less, depending on his tastes, the music can be quantified, but this qualification can not be extrapolated in order to fit art as a whole. It only has meaning for the individual. Therefore all value judgments are only items of self-expression, analogous to any other form of interjected [and usually unasked-for] opinion.

X. Critics write because they think they have writing talent.

"It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open one's mouth and remove all doubt."
- Samuel Johnson

Critics seem to love the sound of their own internal voice[s], don't they? If writing is an act of self-creation, an individual self pulling its own identity and purpose out of an abyss/unconsciousness, then one wonders if critics would write if they didn't have an audience. There are those who write for their own reflection, edification, and entertainment. The act of publishing is what makes a critic-at-large. All critics consider themselves to be effective interpreters of their own opinions. Could they be wrong? Could they be mistaken about their own essential ideas? This "secret pride" or smugness when it comes to the ability to communicate is a source of empowerment for them, it enables them to have a low grade self-esteem. Who are they if not writers? Ostensibly, they do not write to display their ignorance or to demonstrate that they can't write. This "good" judgment of their own ability is often a mistake or is based on experiences in the past which may no longer hold as valid. An evaluation of talent based on a comparison with people who are talentless is not a valid reason for assuming one can write. That is: having "more talent" than the completely talentless does not exactly make one "talented", and in any case one may be mistaken about one's level of skill. The person who first judged one as being talented was most likely mistaken as well, and their judgment was probably based on their own erroneous preconceptions - if not their own self opinion as critics of writing. Even if one is supremely talented [in the abstract] it is not an automatic guarantee of superior writing skills or of an effective ability to communicate.

My main questions for critics still are, after all of this: who ever asked you to start forcing your opinions on everyone? Who decided you are an expert? Was is it you who decided this? Who told you that you could write? Are you convinced that they were correct in their judgment? What function does being a critic serve in your life? How does it allow you to think of yourself? Would anyone really care if you stopped writing, aside from the group of sycophants that you no doubt have gathered by your side? Would the community of artists that you continuously place yourself above even register your passing?

Are you living the life you wanted to live?

U. Amtey
22 July 2003
16:16 EST

The entire revising and rewriting of this article was carried out while listening to Xasthur's "Nocturnal Poisoning" and Dornenreich's "Nicht Um Zu Sterben", which provided essential inspiration and pleasure.