Just funny that we’re talking about writing that is not easy to understand and you pulled a kind of Henry James para sentence to finish off your post. lol
I comment with the greatest love for you, Greg! :D
Oh, such a stickler you are Odi.
More seriously though, that sort of thing does sort of reinforce my point about how where a person writes or for whom helps to configure what is written. Since this is a forum, I’m writing, as I assume is the case for most of us most of the time, in a offhand manner, which leads to more conversational style posts rather than more polished replies. For most people this will likely mean they will write a number of shorter posts which better match the flow of conversation, like in the StL! thread, for some of though it means more of a stream of consciousness style of writing which can lead to longer posts which can come across as breathless. (This might suggest something about our normal interactions with people, but I’d prefer not to dwell on that.) In any case, the structure tends to lend itself to some sorts of interactions more readily than others when our various styles of “conversing” come together. Ideally this means there is some push towards a communal understanding, but it can just as easily lead towards argument.
Short posts run the risk of not being thorough enough in definition and therefore are often torn apart for that lack, alternatively they can tend towards simple assertions of values or belief which also can lead to counter assertions. Longer posts, on the other hand, can tend to stop or stall conversation as they break with flow and may contain a number of different concepts, connected or not, which make the post more difficult to easily respond to, or of interest to even try as a block of text is not as reader friendly as shorter posts would be. There are other issues involved in the conversations here of course, and many different styles of writing, all of this shows something of the problem with not having a standardized method of writing or gives some indication why having standards is important to different disciplines.
Having a more defined style makes approaching any ideas being expressed easier as once one learns the style one no longer has to deal afresh with individual quirks of expression, which is even more important given that writing isn’t comfortable or natural for everyone and that language issues will inevitably come into play unless definitions and style have some regulation.
For critics, reviewers and academics these issues help to shape how they write and likely how they approach a subject. This in turn will effect how their ideas are received and serve to limit their audiences. We could look more closely at how that might play out, but since this block of text is undoubtedly long enough I think that will have to wait for now.
^ Brilliant, ha ha! <3 Greg!! :)
This is why I like conversation so much — because writing is a handicap.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how people try to communicate using it.
That’s my very short post in response to yours.
Let’s get together over drinks instead, talking till we fall asleep. That’s my favorite thing. (and the words will slip into the wind and drive historians and academic nuts down the line because it will all be an unknown — which of course it all is anyway)
At any rate, wonderful points and please don’t let my suddenly self-pleasing tendency to obliterate all achievements in knowledge put a stop to the attempt to figure various things out…
(This is why I can never become an academic or intellectual because I have this intense desire to burn everything to the ground at some point, something that probably wouldn’t be appreciated in those circles. Like Santino, I’m more comfortable making things and not analyzing them after a certain point).
I can understand that desire Odi, but, personally, I’ve found that reading different ways of looking at a film can help me to better “enjoy” them as it can expand the potential avenues of engagement with any given movie, and that tends to be my desired goal, finding something of interest in everything I watch. Which, of course, doesn’t mean I’m thinking about hoping to judge every movie as “good”, but to simply find something which can draw me in to the film in some way, either by giving me something to think about or providing more opportunities to “feel” them.
Anyway, to go back to academic writing for a moment, if we look at this not atypical academic article,
“From This Moment on: The Dialectics of Modernism":http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/cas/file76883.pdf
(It’s the first essay presented in the text by Darin D Kerr which starts six pages down the PDF.)
we can see some of the difficulties involved with academic writing as well as why they might be necessary to the goal sought. I don’t want to examine the arguments the paper proposes per se, just the manner in which they are presented.)
In this essay Kerr is attempting to refine a set of arguments presented by other writers while also arguing against some of the interpretations those writers made. He’s seeking a sort of synthesis of thought which he feels run counter to some accepted wisdom within the discipline.
Kerr starts by quoting what has to be one of the most quoted texts in recent times when it comes to art, that is Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The near constant referencing of this work suggests, rightly, that it is an essential read for anyone hoping to understand recent thinking about the arts. Kerr, however, isn’t just quoting the work, he is using it for another quote Benjamin uses within it, so he is quoting a quote and therefore creating a sort of nested set of references. He does this again in the piece as well as referencing the work of some other writers who were also referencing “common” ideas within the discipline. This creates a series of nested references from which only the arguments needed for Kerr’s point are brought up, and then only glancingly as there is something of an assumption of familiarity with, at least, the basic ideas each is presenting.
Kerr doesn’t use much deeply specialized vocabulary and he offers some definitional clarity on a few points, but many of the words used aren’t in regular usage outside of rather specialized circles, so the lay reader might have some difficulty in knowing exactly what is meant be some usage. This isn’t the main problem for an “outsider” to the discipline though, that comes from needing to be conversant with the different texts quoted as so much of the argument presented comes from assumptions based on those works. This means that in order to really look into what Kerr is saying, whether to agree or to disagree, one would have to examine those underlying assumptions coming from the quoted works. (This can also lead to the need for further excavation if the quoted works are relying on other sets of works for their arguments, creating a sort of elephants all the way down situation.)
One of the reasons Benjamin is so widely quoted is that his work acts as something like a primary text, it isn’t exactly, but its centrality to the discipline allows it to function that way. This centrality allows it to act as something of a base to further inquiry or argument as successive scholars seek to add to its application or suggest limitations to its scope. This is pretty much a key component of scholarship, that is not constantly reinventing or starting over from scratch every time one tries to engage with works or the field as a whole. Instead scholarship often consists of building on what is already known or believed. This, obviously, means that those who aren’t in tune with those underlying sets of assumptions are going to have some difficulty with taking up these additions or clarifications or arguments as they lack the base of knowledge being brought into play.
This doesn’t, of course, invalidate the works, but neither is it an ideal thing as, over time, it pushes the scholarship further and further from practical usage and more into the realm of esoterica. It can also serve to solidify “knowledge” within the discipline which might be less than rock solid as the constant outside reinforcement can create a bulkwark around what might be an empty castle, but one which is effectively impregnable without attack by a concerted force creates cracks within the foundation.
Add to this the problem with copyright and academic publishing, where accessing relevant works can be tricky and sorting relevant information from that which is not viewed as such, or the most current thinking from outdated models can be close to impossible, and where the necessity of paraphrasing and partial quoting can lead to further layers of disagreement, and you have a mix which is extremely unfriendly to general readers, and because of that, not of much use outside of the specialized circles where such thinking originated. None of that is to say that the scholarship isn’t or wouldn’t be of value if one does or could access it in ways which could be readily understood, just that for all practical effect it is of minimal use to most.
You are open-minded, Greg. That is good. Reminds me of Jazz’s approach too.
I guess I tend to work off my emotion more — some things really repulse me and I have little interest in trying to find anything whatsoever to draw me in. I trust my emotions on this sort of thing.
However, if I were a critic or an academic, I’d consider it my duty to get beyond my emotions and view the scene with a colder eye. That’s what I’d be getting paid for, that would be my work. But then, I think that people who go into these fields or are inclined to think as they demand genuinely enjoy this, as you indicate.
I do appreciate that different perspective.
My figuring is that strong negative responses are often interesting in and of themselves as they can suggest that the “problem” may not be with the movie entirely, but with the expectation one has about it. For me, the worst films are those which don’t provoke much of any response, generally anyway as the issue of moral offense isn’t always easy to resolve and feeling offended in that way can pretty much shut down more nuanced critique.
I think I often react more to the style of the film than the subject matter though. If I perceive the way in which the story/non-story is told as maudlin, pretentious (yes there’s that forbidden word), or inept it makes me react very negatively to a film. Indifference doesn’t bother me as much. It’s when a director is, to me, making some kind of statement through how they are telling a story, like hitting me over the head with it, that I start to get rather ornery and uncooperative in terms of absorbing the film.
I feel the spirit of whoever is making the movie very instinctively. It’s like knowing whether you are going to get along with a certain personality or not through the way in which they communicate, and then secondarily what they are communicating (which is colored by how they think and who they are).
I may misjudge this sometimes, but if I see more than one film with a certain feeling I generally know that with that particular filmmaker, there is a good chance that we may not see eye to eye, and then to each his own, you know?
Oh, sure, I think we all do that to some degree or another. It’s probably unavoidable. As a devout agnostic though my thing is to doubt, so I tend to doubly question thoughts or feelings which come too readily if I recognize them. I can’t say there’s a gain in that nor a loss, it’s just my way like you have yours or anyone else has their own I guess.
Yeah, I definitely make some people laugh (and others bristle) with the way I respond to things emotionally sometimes. But it’s just my way of perceiving. Hard to change that if that’s who you are… but you can at least learn to recognize that it’s really interesting that others think differently than you do, and that variety is the spice of life. :)
Heh. I guess that could make me a wishy-washy Charlie Brown type and you more of a Lucy, which would explain those grass stains I got from you pulling the football away on me earlier.
Lucy was what my dad used to call me when I was little, lol! (and my little brother was Linus, naturally)
Oh well, Lucy it is then!
Re: the Kerr thing, Greg, I think another difficult layman sometimes have with academic writing is that academic writing is sometimes a couple of layers removed from the primary text, so you have, not an simple reading of x, but a reading of an perhaps response to y and z’s reading of x, or back in the day, a deconstructionist A offering a deconstruction of deconstruction B’s deconstruction of a text. It can be sort of akin to hearing only one end of a telephone conversation (the guy who seems like a lunatic walking around muttering to himself but turns out to be just getting a grocery list from his wife via a bluetooth headset). Whereas, so-called “cinephile critics” and the like, for the most part, tend to not stray to far from the primary text as object of criticism.
(P.S. Can we start a “re-punctuate Greg X’s posts thread”?)
Aw, now that’s just piling on…next thing I know you’ll be pulling out all my qualifiers and I won’t recognize my own posts…fiends…I hope you realize that I’m just trying to live up to my motto, Type Fast, Kill Threads, and Leave a Ponderous Corpus…
I agree with you on your first paragraph regardless of how deeply hurt I am over that parenthetical end.
Ha. Mine it would be necessary to delete altogether and rewrite from scratch.
<3 Greg, <3 Matt – you are both very intelligent and articulate and interesting and I’ll read whatever you two write regardless.
Now for another scotch on the rocks. HA HA HA (ok I’ll get off this thread for the time being) :D
Great post, my approach is very similar… and that’s tough to articulate correctly, well said!
The previous essay I linked to in this thread, sorry the url didn’t show up as a hyperlink, was just one type of “academic” essay, there are a number of others which are also fairly typical. For example, the essay following Darin Kerr’s:
Christ, I Miss the Cold War James Bond, 9/11, and Casino Royale
represents another fairly common strand of academic writing. This one provides a sort of “reading” of a movie where the film is seen as informing and being informed by the culture at the time it was created. This particular essay is slightly unusual in that it is also examining a prediction about the direction Bond franchise would take following the events of 9/11. Again, I want to set aside the direct claims to look at the underlying premises of the essay and the ways in which it is written.
This kind of essay lives in a sort of inbetween zone with academia on the one side and “serious” film magazines on the other as many of the more noted magazines seem to have tacitly accepted many of the concepts which inform this kind of reading and they will often publish somewhat similar essays, though perhaps with a slightly more judgmental tone to better combine the review and analysis aspects of it.
This essay accepts certain ideological premises as being valid, and builds on top of those presumptions. I don’t want to judge the validity of those assumptions right now, but they are necessary to the argument being made. The arguments come not only from a particular method of reading a movie, but from a way of understanding the culture. The ideas are linked and both aspects are necessary to understand or accept the article as it is. The article contains implicit concepts surrounding capitalist culture and the production of “art” within such a system as well as suggesting something about the manner of response “we” have to artworks within this culture. I don’t have time to go through these assumptions in detail right now, but I think it should be clear that the way this article differs from a newspaper review or general critique is in how the film is looked at as a sort of carrier of ideological “meaning” which directs the way we will understand it and how it will be seen as responding to the larger outside world rather than being simply able to be experienced in a sort of personal vacuum.
As is common to these sorts of essays, the idea of a movie being better or worse in an artistic sense isn’t really at issue, neither is the intent one of dealing with aesthetic issues per se. The interest is more in unpacking a piece of popular culture to reveal the ideological content it holds and/or is responding to. This means movies like Casino Royale are likely to be seen as more worthy of dissection than less popular movies, unless those movies seem to be particularly well suited to explaining some ideas which might undermine the status quo. This suggests which types of films are most useful to this approach and, in a way, limits the types of responses to those films. It also suggests a rather specific vantage point from which the writer will seek to view the film. This can be problematic for a number of reasons, but it is more or less usual for the style.
This isn’t to say that these sorts of readings aren’t useful, they certainly can be and if one accepts the underlying ideas behind the critique, it can certainly change one’s experience of a movie in a much wider sense which can have an effect on how one will view any art. The commonality of these sorts of readings in certain circles also can have a generally unremarked upon effect on the creation of films as filmmakers themselves might seek to make their films better fit a desired type of reading as they are familiar with the concepts as well. This potential changes the dynamic of the underlying ideologies in a way as there is, I think, a difference between an unconscious “meaning” one might read into a film and one which is put there by design.
I’ll also point out a slightly different take on “reading” a film which shares some characteristics with the one mentioned above, but offers something slightly different.
Identity and Collective Memory in Jorge Sanjinés’ La nación clandestin
This essay adopts an academic style and seeks to provide a sort of historical and political ground for a film. As such it can be a very valuable read for someone seeking to better understand the context of a movie, but it too doesn’t offer much in the way of an aesthetic appreciation of the film, leaving it closer to a kind of code book one can apply if one does watch the film than a more experiential response which perhaps would better correlate to the effect of the film on a viewer, capture the “art” of it so to speak.
These sorts of essays fit “academic” purposes, even when not written for academia directly, in that they seek to explain movies in a way that moves away from harder to categorize emotional or personal response and find a more “objective” vantage point from which to address the work. They impose a sort of ideological structure onto the movie to better be able to “read” it, or translate it to some set sort of meanings which can be weighed in a way which personal response cannot. Again, there is nothing wrong with any of this and in many instances the ideas being put forward are not only worth considering or debating, but can alter the way we do personally respond to a movie once the ideas have become absorbed as well as potentially altering the way movies themselves are made as filmmakers are also often part of the “discussion” which helps to form these sorts of ideologies.
I come at it more from the perspective of a historian. I am capable of writing for an audience, in this case the 28 people in this thread, and I can do mainstream journalism if I want to do general reviews and write for a magazine or something similar, but I would rather leave this to people who do it as a profession. There is plenty valuable research done in academic institutes, particularly on early films of my country, but I would rather read literature or poetry if it’s for my own enrichment. I’d never take a film course at a university given the standard of the courses I see around me, I already have a horribly bitter experience with this in other fields.
I’m not sure what exactly is a cinephile but I think they are more prone to referencing obscure films in order to seem clever, rather than to contribute anything of any worth to theory. Not to disrespect all the wonderful contributors to this forum, for example, Kenji who has some of the best lists you would find anywhere.
“The quote was cited by Bordwell as being great criticism. To me, it’s absolutely useless. “Every space is allowed to live as itself.” What on Earth does that mean? That doesn’t make the film clearer to me, it doesn’t make it easier to enjoy, and I don’t have a deeper understanding of the film.
And of course academics are guilty of going in the other direction. Giving every camera move, acting style, film movement and camera technique a complicated name, then deeming whoever can use the most complicated words as the deepest thinker. “Oh, the mise-en-scen! The verisimilitude!” Or even worse, they start talking about semiotics and “ideology, psychoanalysis, and feminism”…shudder."
I have to agree with Fraser-Orr’s post earlier in this thread. While I certainly have no problem with deconstructing and analyzing works of art, there is a point where it is taken way too far. Deconstructing a film to the point where it is a garbled set of meaningless terms and unrelated “parts” for me turns art into some kind of obtuse mathematical exercise. Above all, film should be about enjoyment and enlightenment. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it is impossible to write about art objectively, because art is by nature such a subjective eperience. But the other problem I have with acedemics is when they start harping about “Marxist criticism,” “feminist criticism,” etcetera.
The critics are certainly just as guilty of engaging in these behaviors. Like Orr said, what does “Every space is allowed to live as itself” mean? That is why I will always prefer critics such as Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin, or Pauline Kael because while they may be more populist, they have a better grasp of film above all, as a medium of enjoyment.
This thread seems dead, but as a diehard Kent Jones fan, I have to take issue with the above claim about Ebert/Maltin/Kael. There are many types of enjoyment to be derived from film. This, after all, is the reason we’re all so crazy about it. Jones’ criticism, which is poetic and thought-provoking, comes from, I think, the more philosophical or intellectual pleasure of cinema than, let’s say, the more ‘crowd-pleasing’ enjoyment of it.