For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.

"Micro-criticism" and "LACONIA"


"There is a useful but not very respected mode of criticism — let's call it 'micro-criticism' — that is made possible by the Internet," writes Girish Shambu in an entry inspired, at least in part, by the ongoing Project: New Cinephilia. "[W]hen it is practiced well, it can be valuable, insightful, and forward-looking, while working in small, daily, and humble ways."

His focus, of course, is on Facebook and Twitter and the subtle yet vital differences between the kinds of critical discourse each enables, and he eventually works his way into a quote from Raymond Durgnat: "The business of criticism seems to me 'matters arising,' and naturally varies from film to film. I'd rather be wrong but open up a perspective than be right, i.e., dismiss opportunities for the full, intellectual, sensual, emotional experience of reflective hesitation." The emphasis is Girish's, and he adds, "I think there's a lesson here for Internet micro-criticism. The short, succinct form of tweets or Facebook status updates furnishes a useful freedom — to record observations, try out ideas, hazard lines of analysis, risk hypotheses, identify contradictions, think laterally rather than linearly, all in a spirit of 'reflective hesitation.'"

As examples of just a few of micro-criticism's "gifted practitioners," he points to the Twitter feeds of Michael Sicinski, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Steven Shaviro and Mike D'Angelo, a selection I, too, will whole-heartedly endorse. And as always at Girish's place, the comments that follow are thought-provoking. Srikanth Srinivasan, for example, ventures a comparison between tweets and the aphorisms with which Godard punctuates his films, adding, "To paraphrase Dan North: Bresson would have tweeted Notes on Cinematography if he was alive."

When grappling with any new form of writing (or, for that matter, any new form of art-making), there's always an impulse to feel out correlations between the new thing and what's been written (or made) before, and you'll find more than a few examples in reviews of Masha Tupitsyn's LACONIA: 1200 Tweets on Film, a new title out from Zer0 Books, the British publishing house that's given us Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism, Owen Hatherley's Militant Modernism and Steven Shaviro's Post Cinematic Affect.

The title alone will intrigue some, strike others as a mere marketing gag, and it may even worry or infuriate yet others who still find the very notion of Twitter silly or irritating at best. But as Giovanni Tiso reminds us, LACONIA is not the first book of its kind, at least in broad, generic terms: "It's been two years since James Bridle produced the first volume of his life in tweets, probably the first Twitter memoir in print. There had been books of tweets before, and there have been many more since — some of them reviled, some of them inspiring a certain amount of justifiable awe, all of them conspicuously and sometimes precariously balanced on the (l)edge, the fluid boundary where the old medium ends and the new one begins."

For Christine Hou, writing in the Brooklyn Rail, LACONIA "calls to mind Blaise Pascal's Pensées or Simone Weil's Gravity and Grace, fragmented texts or aphorisms that are innately spiritual and political in nature. LACONIA, however, is not so much steeped in religious mysticism as much as it is a demystification of image, celebrity, and consumerism. It is at once diary, film criticism, and cultural collage. Influenced by Roland Barthes's A Lover's Discourse: Fragments and Alfredo Jaar's photography installation, Lament of the Images, Tupitsyn writes in her introduction that LACONIA is 'a lament of the overproduction of language, a communication overload we're incapable of keeping up with or making sense of.'"

Elaine Castillo at Big Other:

LACONIA often feels like a book of (a work of) cultural mourning, and while it gives credit to Mies van der Rohe and compares its form to 'an architecture of thinking,' I am reminded also of the way the work of German writer Georg Büchner… is conceptualized in John Reddick's introduction to the Penguin edition of Büchner's complete works:

"It helps if we recognize what is surely the paradox of paradoxes in Georg Büchner: his disjunctive mode with its relentless insistence on fragments and particles is always the expression of a radiant vision of wholeness… but almost always a wholeness that is poignantly elusive: it was, but is no longer; or will be but isn't yet; or — most poignant of all — it is in the present, but can be possessed only partially or transiently. Büchner is thus forced to be a maker of mosaics."

From LACONIA's introduction: "LACONIA contains a nexus of themes. Rather than expanding upon one idea at length, it connects the dots, using a hybrid of sources to build a mosaic of patterns that emphasizes and explores the correlations and juxtapositions between films."

If you've followed the Daily in its various forms over the years, you can probably sense what it is about this book and its reception that's caught my attention. Castillo: "The idea of a radiant wholeness only elusively possible through fragments is an apt way of thinking about LACONIA."

More from Anthony at Time's Flow Stemmed and Jon Leon.

Join the Project: New Cinephilia discussions. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

Ha. Thanks for the exhaustive roundup as well as the mention, David. I am surprised that I turned out to be one of the few unapolegetic defenders of Twitter. I didn’t even add the obvious caveats. Will keep an eye out for the book. Sounds mighty interesting. Cheers!
Another thanks for the roundup + the mention! The book deserves all the attention. Also belated thanks for mentioning my Harun Farocki post at Big Other a couple months ago. Was very appreciated. Elaine
I’m not sure I would describe it as “criticism” per se, but my 3 Things project tries to at least capture a few moments from every film I see. I think that by boiling down a movie like that, it’s often easier to focus on the essence of the work. Most film criticism starts to fall in love with its own words when it reaches a certain length, becoming a dull monologue instead of the engaging conversation it ought to be. My 3 Things project is an attempt to reignite those kinds of conversations.
Hi Rob, I just read some of your posts on 3 Things. They’re great. I think you might feel some kinship with LACONIA. I write about Vertigo, too, and it’s rings of time—memory. People in rings—circles. LACONIA is more about distillation concentration, and discursiveness, than essence, since essence is for me too reductive a word and aspiration. But I tried to burn a hole (with words) into film the way film burns a hole into me. Masha
@Rob Maybe you have a copyright infringement case against Criterion and their “3 Reasons”.
@ Bobby Well, it’s true that I started my 3 Things project back in 2007, long before their videos, but for now I’m just flattered. Weird though that I haven’t heard anything from Criterion about it.

Please to add a new comment.

Latest News