I originally posted this as a response to a very powerful rant by yuki_onna here but it struck me I should probably repost it here. (Essentially, with particular reference to Phantom Menace, the Matrix sequels, Avatar and the Who finale, Cat was bemoaning that so many otherwise intelligent people are content to take pleasure from material she regards as shit. That’s a very brief summary of a nuanced post – I don’t think it is a misrepresentation, but I urge you to read it, and the discussion that follows it).
Later Below, calimac argues that I have indeed seriously misrepresented Cat and that part of what she is arguing is that, if people like the worthless, how can she trust their judgement when they like the good. I don’t think that my summary above so much misrepresents that position as leaves it implicit, but fair enough…Like I say, read her post.
Even later Cat has clarified her position and agreed to me quoting her:
I actually did not mean to make calimac’s point
I meant to say: I don’t know if I can really tell, in my own work, good from bad
the people who made those bad things thought they were good Which is not to diss calimac‘s position, because he and I have been having a version of this argument for some time in his own right.
It’s not a knock-down argument when we are mostly talking about popular culture, but it is worth remembernig that Tolstoy wrote a long essay explaining why he thought Shakespeare in general, and king Lear in particular, was total rubbish. Not every intelligent, aware reader likes everything.
I am very fond of two art forms that give many of my friends hives – opera and superhero comics. There are plenty of my friends who like neither, and plenty who like one and cannot abide the other. Mostly I don’t try to get them to make the breakthrough. And let’s be clear, I like almost all opera, even minor verismo things that I know are not all that good – they touch something in me amd I would rather have, say, Giordano’s Siberia in my life than not have it in my life. I feel the same about, oh, I dunno, Kurt Busiek on an off-day, though the best of his superhero work amazes me.
At the same time, there is work I suspect to be great that I just do not get on with. The organ music of Messaein, say, or anything by Stockhausen. Many years ago, I shared a flat with musicologist Paul Griffiths and we argued endlessly about the course of C20 music – we both liked Bartok and Stravinsky and the Second Viennese School. But he could not abide the Soviet composers and I could not be doing with the Darmstadt school; over the years, and I have not been in touch with him for decades, I know from his writing that he changed his mind over the Shostakovich string quartets that I tried to hard to get him to like and I know he won me over to Piette Boulez as a composer, but again, not at the time.
It is a fallacy, I think, that any of us is going to like everything that is good, or everything with good aspects that other people like. It is a fallacy that there is any moral component to this – there are very few works of art that it is immoral to like and very few that are so glorious that to be blind to them is a moral failing.
I’ve mentioned Tolstoy; Beethoven got very upset that Mozart had written Cosi Fan Tutte because he thought it was an amoral heartless piece that was cynical about women and cynical about love. In a sense he is right, but posterity has generally considered him wrong both in his reading of the work and its assessment of its merits.
We have just to live with the fact that it is an imperfect world and that we are all of us imperfect and that sometimes posterity gets to sort out which of us was right and which of us was wrong.
And quite a lot of art goes in and out of eclipse, and quite a lot is forgotten. Yet the pleasure it gives in its day in the sun is still genuine aesthetic pleasure and the world is better off for it.
Later Still I would also like to stress that I disagree not so much with Cat as with the voice in my own head that feels as she does. My respect for her as artist is almost beyond the telling of it, and her high standards may be one of the reasons why her work is so fine. It might be so.