Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Criticism: a fine balance according to Ricoeur


In the pages of this blog, I have reviewed exhibitions, plays, a couple of operas, performances. It have been important to me to communicate that these were my  personal impressions, that I didn’t feel like I was any more qualified to review these shows than anyone else. I also held that no critics were more qualified than I, or anyone else!
Here’s an extract from an interview with thinker Paul Ricoeur about criticism. He proposes that the critic has to balance between a partisan position (I know it all), and a completely neutral position (I am as impartial as God). I like that.
Then he discusses clarifying and explaining. That does not ring to the same tune as my approach. I try to transmit my impression of the show to those readers who have not seen it, and to stimulate thought and appreciation in those who have seen the show, in a kind of remote conversation. And I do spend time thinking about the show, more or less whether I'm writing a fast entry from my blog or an in depth article for a magazine. The insights I get from this process might be right, might be wrong. I am not "explaining" but my mulling might bring some clarification if the analysis I propose rings true to the reader.
I do find Paul Ricoeur’s way of expressing himself “sympathique” (his last name, Ricoeur, sounds like "laugh heart'):

‘Between partisan criticism, which is an act of violence done to the text and, perhaps, to the reader, and this hypocritical claim that the critic belongs nowhere, there is this kind of self-criticism by the critic who knows that it is always from the basis of a prejudice that one understands something. In other words, it is necessary to understand that all comprehension implies a pre-comprehension; that is to say, a certain affinity with the object and, therefore, also a whole cultural equipment. It is from the depth of a certain culture that I approach a new object of the culture. As a result, pre-comprehension and prejudice are necessarily a part of comprehension. There cannot be any self-criticism by a neutral critic. And, inversely, a critic cannot be partisan. So, there is an extremely delicate point of balance there between, on the one hand, the conviction that pre-comprehension and prejudgment are a vital part of comprehension of every object, and, on the other hand and at the same time, the critique of the illusions of the subject which one may make with the aid of either Marxism or psychoanalysis.
But I myself don't believe that a single critique of ideologies suffices, because there is a truth in pre-comprehension. The question would then be posed again tthe critic of ideologies: where do they stand themselves and who will do the critique of the critic? Anyway, there is a pre-comprehension, because there is no comprehension without pre-comprehension. But pre-comprehension is at the same time prejudice. German is, however, very interesting from that point of view, because there is one word, Vorurteil, which means prejudgment and prejudice. 
Phenomenology of the critic is based upon the dialectic between prejudice and prejudgment.

Phenomenology only concerns itself with clarifying and judging. To clarify a work of literature is to understand its internal structure, how the different codes, the different subjacent structures hold the message of the work. To explain is to put it in touch with its author, its audience, its world in a triangular relationship which begins with discourse. Judging comes from another discipline which would be aesthetics. I wouldn’t like to make phenomenology an almighty science, not everything is phenomenological.’

The text above has been edited for a shorter read. And the critic identified as a “he” by Ricoeur has been transgendered to a “they” because it is 2019 after all.  

Phenomenology and Theory of Literature, an interview with Paul Ricoeur, by Erik

Published, and partly written by  - - Arabella Hutter von Arx