RE F L E C T ION S
" ere the
J. Derrida, The
At th uts(
o dsen e
etU SI ve
De n tor r
The big words and the complicated ideas the critic
uses to represent art to us finally replace the art
itself. Instead of art we are left with only the
critic's own descriptions, ascriptions, and
assignations. This is the condition of art, always
already replaced by words:
What happens everywhere where these
supplements of unchained performatives
interlace their simulacra and the most serious
quality of their literality? What happens in a
game so perverse but also so necessary?
Perhaps you have seen these words before and
have felt compelled to puzzle them out. Well, fret
not, poor beleaguered reader. Leave it to this
columnist to take a bullet for the cause of theory.
Because I confess to you here now, with as much
embarrassment as glee, that I eat this stuff for
breakfast. In effect-let me assure you-what
Derrida means to say is that were I to promise you
the truth, you would feel compelled to doubt me.
When I profess my sincerity and expertise, you
cannot not help but wonder what I am hiding. All
my arcane terms and erudite expressions and bold
assertions are indistinguishable from just so many
words. And so if I declare myself to be the bearer
of a new, better, more real, blood-and-gutsier, to
the bone, more honest and incisive discourse
about art (and certainly you expect no less), you've
heard it all before. Yet if the great effort I expend
to share my conviction with you is for naught, why
do I bother to play this "perverse" game? Is it
to those of others, competing for the triumph of
a st e
"The judgment of taste requires the
agreement of everyone"
Kant, Critique of Judgement, 19
e cannot fully appreciate a work of art if we are
nstrained to keep our opinions to ourselves.
e want, and in a certain way we expect, that
eryone should like what we like, or that
eryone would like what we liked if only they
derstood our reasons for liking it. Whatever
ose reasons are. Taste is subjective, but in our
arts we feel we are absolutely right. We know
nat we like. And so while others may have
ferent tastes, they have lousy taste, and don't
ow good work when they see it.
openings, critiques, reviews and the like we
ss judgment-publicly, furtively, indifferently,
vehemently. And we compare our judgments
our own view. To varying degrees, we all play.
Our compulsion is private, our gratification
shared. Viewing art is but a pretense behind
which we savor the perverse fixation of our desire
to have the last word.
Nonetheless, it is a serious game. There are
winners and losers. And the critic always wins.
Every round of the game is designed and
destined to confirm the critic's taste. It is the final
score, the bottom line, the truth. Yet despite all
the privileged and authoritative words, after the
critic's sordid danse macabre of unchained
performatives, the fact remains that taste is
subjective. No accounting for taste, no
"The fact remains that...art is studied from
the point of view of its end. Its pastness is
So, like the world of sports, the art world is built
around a game that has its seasonal winners and
losers. And like sportswriters, art critics
experience a morbid glee upon consigning every
new round of the game to the past, the minute it
is played. Unlike sportswriters, however, we
cannot demand of them a scorecard of who did
what when, with which to gauge the accuracy of
their judgments. For there is no limit set to the
critic's freedom to say what could have been
done. This is the superior freedom the critic
shares instead with the armchair quarterback.
cont. on pg. 22
Carroll, Don. Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228034/. Accessed May 22, 2013.