I am, on occasion, critical - of a wine, a book, a painting, a piece of music, a restaurant, a ball player. But that is not the same thing at all. The role of the critic is to be, not negative, but positive: to evaluate, to provide deep context, to establish relationships, to elucidate and enhance. In this sense, I suppose that from time to time I write within a critical tradition, but that is not my intention.
This is a blog, not an academic treatise. I allow myself half an hour and plus-or-minus 500 words for each post. The prompts are my reading and listening, my eating and drinking, my obsessions, my social activities. But as some of my excellent correspondents have pointed out, there is a theme developing from these disparate activities, of which – to be honest – I was not consciously aware.
This theme, it would appear, is the appreciation of all activities as a totality, as part of ‘life’ – a word which Leavis substituted for tradition and continuity.
My subjects, whether they be a new Dylan album, a fine claret, an exhibition or a baseball game, are part of life and contribute to the fundamental ‘vitality’ which is ‘crucial’ to developing an individual ‘meaning of life’, the making of valid choices not through evasion but single-minded commitment.
If I had to categorise what a friend flatteringly characterised as ‘these essays’, I would use the word explorations, which is itself an important Leavis word, and as he said in another context, ‘all important words are dangerous’.
In this case, the danger comes from imposing an importance on my observations which they are incapable of bearing. And often, I confess, they are gut reactions rather than considered judgements.
In the tutored tastings at the Foire aux Vins, for example, I hated the sweetness of the whites, the oakiness of the reds. The maligned wine critics of my previous blog could doubtless explain and maybe even justify. For me, it is simply not to my taste.
Does this mean, therefore, that when you read this blog, you are merely the recipients of some undigested prejudices?
I promise you, you are not. Because more often than not, I start only with a topic. Over the course of the 500 words, I develop my approach and attitude and finally a judgement, a valuation.
So in the average blog what you are reading is the record of a process of internal debate and argument, backed by Wordsworthian spots of time, structured in the form of Judt’s Memory Chalet, supported by quotes from better writers, and concluding with … well, a sort of conclusion.
Bit like this one, really.
Today from the everysmith vault: Yesterday, of course, was the wonderful music of the test match commentary. Today, it’s the New Riders of the Purple Sage from July 1971. A 10 minute version of Dirty Business, with Jerry on pedal steel, is the highlight.