Having just finished my most recent reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I have Quality on the brain, Quality with a capital Q, and in the semi-demented abstract manner of the electro-shock therapy patient narrator of the book.
A lunch discussion on the conflicts a critic faces within its local scene elicited some interesting comments. Below, a short dialogue:
Nate Chinen asks, “What’s good for community? What’s good for criticism?,” indicating that these things may not overlap. Talk drifts on towards thinking about how and where to draw the line between personal and professional obligations.
Christgau: “People who don’t try to preserve the boundaries are bad critics.”
Ann Powers: “Is it bad or is it something different?”
Christgau: “I think bad is the word I would use.”
A lot of laughs followed this, but there is a very real point. One thing I am finding is that the people who cross this line may not really intend to be critics at all; they may find out that they have other motivations. So Powers’ accepting tone is appropriate, but Christgau is still right. Is he always right? There’s something in the tone of his voice that makes everything sound so definitive.