by David Levi Strauss, published in the May 2012 issue of the Brooklyn Rail
My title comes from Paul Valéry, in a wonderful little essay he wrote about Corot in 1932, where he said:
‘Art criticism’ is that form of literature which condenses or amplifies, emphasizes or arranges, or attempts to bring into harmony all the ideas that come to the mind when it is confronted by artistic phenomena. Its domain extends from metaphysics to invective.
As you can tell from the titles of my books (Between Dog & Wolf, Between the Eyes, From Head to Hand) I have a weakness for prepositions, and I especially appreciate the order here, “from metaphysics to invective,” rather than the other way around. I’ve found that students who are beginning to write criticism usually start with the vehement denunciation and vituperation first, and it might be a very long time before they get around to the metaphysics. That Valéry began with metaphysics is probably a key to why we still read his criticism. And that of Baudelaire, who said, “There is never a moment when criticism is not in contact with metaphysics.” (click here to keep reading)