SAW x AFB:
An Online Workshop
Organized by Alex King, Aaron Meskin, Jonathan Neufeld, and Elizabeth Scarbrough
Organized by Alex King, Aaron Meskin, Jonathan Neufeld, and Elizabeth Scarbrough
What follows is an interview of writer and literary critic James Wood, who is Professor of Literary Practice at Harvard. He is interviewed by Becca Rothfeld, a PhD candidate in philosophy at Harvard, and an essayist, literary critic, and contributor to The New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, and more.
James Wood is Professor of Literary Practice at Harvard, a staff writer at The New Yorker, the author of two novels and six books of criticism, and the most exhilarating literary critic alive. He made his name writing long, ambitious, and often searingly negative essays, among them his famed takedown of so-called “hysterical realists” and his evisceration of Paul Auster’s hypermasculine posturing. But I know Wood primarily as a lover of literature, and in recent years, he has done much to champion contemporary novelists, among them Ben Lerner and Teju Cole. Wood is a voracious quoter, and in his pieces he allows the works he loves to speak in their own voices. I love Wood for many reasons, some of which I fleshed out in my review of his latest essay collection, Serious Noticing. By way of summary, I love his beautiful prose, his appreciation for well-wrought sentences, and his argumentative and philosophical acumen. My favorite essay of his—perhaps my favorite piece of literary criticism in the world!—is his ravenous take on Moby-Dick and God. (The son of a minister, Wood’s vexed atheism rears its head in many of his essays.) In this interview, I spoke to him via email, initially about why he prefers to do interviews via email, ultimately about both his broader aesthetic commitments and what he thinks criticism amounts to.Continue reading →
Co-organizers: Aaron Meskin, Jonathan Neufeld, Thi Nguyen, and Alex King (that’s me) Continue reading →
What follows is a guest post by Antonia Peacocke.
Art critics get a really bad rap. The stereotype of a critic is a haughty, pedantic grump who loves passing judgment on art—without being able to do anything creative themselves. According to the stereotype, critics are assholes ready to destroy the dreams of hopeful artists and intimidate the rest of us into feeling dumb.
This stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. Critics—or, at least, great critics—are really not assholes. They love art, and artists too, and they are not here to intimidate the rest of us. To see the potential of great art criticism, it helps to read a great art critic. Continue reading →
What follows is a guest post by Jennifer A. McMahon.
Have you ever found yourself patiently listening to a range of interpretations of an artwork, wondering whether there was some objective way to negotiate the plethora of sometimes idiosyncratic and whimsical responses? Regarding this question, it is interesting to compare the typical objective of a community-based-book-club to the way gallery visitors talk about the art they see. A reader seeks to make sense of a novel in terms relative to their own life experiences. If a reader finds by referencing expert authority that their experience is far removed from what the author had in mind, the value they place on the work might be diminished rather than prompt them to any new experience of it (unless they were reading it as part of a course on which they were to be assessed). With visual art, the situation until recently was quite different. The gallery visitor might ask what a work meant and establish this by reading art historians and art critics. But recently, the gallery has become an analogue of the local book club. The gallery program officers seek to provide experiences for their visitors and by definition this means, finding the means whereby the visitor can make sense of a work relative to their own life experiences. Today it can seem downright fascistic to ask for the view of an expert! Continue reading →
What follows is a guest post by James Harold, Professor of Philosophy at Mount Holyoke College. Parts of this blog post draw from his article “The Value of Fictional Worlds (or, Why The Lord of the Rings is Worth Reading).”
Critics and fans approach certain works (like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars) very differently. The critics evaluate these works on their own merits, considered as art objects in their own right, while fans consider in terms of their contribution to a larger world of play and creative exploration. While philosophers, like art critics, have spent a lot of time thinking about artworks, they have spent relatively little time thinking about this playful, participatory world, the world that is the focus of fan culture. Continue reading →
What follows is a guest post by Charles Peterson (Oberlin College)
As Walter Mosley observes in his essay “Black to the Future,” the genre(s) of science fiction/fantasy neé Afro-futurism speak clearly to the dissatisfied through their power to imagine the first step in changing the world:
Black people have been cut off from their African ancestry by the scythe of slavery and from an American heritage by being excluded from history. For us, science fiction offers an alternative where that which deviates from the norm is the norm.
As such, African-descended people have long understood and utilized the power of narrative to generate the images and ideas that will spark the liberatory imaginings of the sufferers. Particularly in the realms of the fantastic have characters, scenarios, and worlds been constructed to expose the truths of the world as it is and reveal the possibilities of worlds that could be. The figures of Anansi, Brer Rabbit, Nanny of the Maroons (who, though a historical figure, has risen to mythic proportions), John Henry, Shine, and many other figures casting spells thru the genres of proverbs, folklore, folk tales, song, short story, novel, graphic literature and movies have served as prompts to address the spoken and unspoken realities of their respective times and communities. The Ryan Coogler-directed addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther steps momentously into this tradition. Continue reading →
What follows is a guest post by Bence Nanay. Bence is Professor of Philosophy and BOF Research Professor at the University of Antwerp and Senior Research Associate at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Between Perception and Action(Oxford University Press, 2013) and editor of Perceiving the World (Oxford University Press, 2010) and he just finished his book on aesthetics, Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception (Oxford University Press, under contract), which is all about the concept of attention in aesthetics. This picture shows him doing depiction research and being fascinated by the way pictures can give us very wise advice…
So, I’ll spoil the 2014 World Cup for you. Not the games, those should be fun, if you’re into that sort of thing. The logo. Which you will see ad nauseam – on flags, World Cup merchandise, in commercials, everywhere.Continue reading →
What follows is a guest post by Hans Maes. Hans is Senior Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Art and co-director of the Aesthetics Research Centre at the University of Kent. He has authored papers on a variety of topics in aesthetics, including the role of intention in the interpretation of art, the notion of free beauty, and the relation between art and pornography. The latter is the subject of two essay collections: Art and Pornography(co-edited with Jerrold Levinson, Oxford University Press, 2012) and Pornographic Art and The Aesthetics of Pornography (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013).
I’m currently working on a book with the title “Conversations on Art and Aesthetics” set to appear with OUP in 2015*. The book is modeled after Alex Voorhoeve’s Conversations on Ethics and will contain interviews with a number of prominent aestheticians.
Below is an excerpt from my 2011 interview with Jerrold Levinson. I thought it would be fun to include it here, given the name of this blog…Continue reading →
What follows is an interview with poet David Orr. David is the poetry columnist for the New York Times Book Review. His first book, Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry, was named one of the twenty best books of 2011 by The Chicago Tribune. Orr is the winner of the Nona Balakian Prize from the National Book Critics Circle and the Editor’s Prize for Reviewing from Poetry magazine. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, Poetry magazine, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Believer, among other publications. He holds a B.A. from Princeton and a J.D. from Yale Law School.Continue reading →