This Anomalous Experiment

by Tom Watson
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New Criticism was a movement among early 20th century writers and critics of English that argued a strict adherence to a series of absolute truths, the most important of which was that everything that can be known about a work of literature can be found in its published text. Almost a century later, technology and media distribution have changed the mean of the most important word in that description – “text.” These days, the text is never finished and it goes far beyond the written word. Further, criticism, once the province of a few well-educated, semi-cloistered academics, is now the work of the masses. Critics today must either wade into the crowd, or be left on a remote shore.

In this WordPress-powered “anomalous experiment” – TS Eliot’s description – we do not adopt the principles of close reading so favored by the New Critics of old. But there is one element of the namesake school that is the key to this group blog – ambiguity. Different critics see different books, films, television shows, music, poetry, performances in vastly different ways. Further, the best works about human life are far from absolute, even the most moralistic of tales. Here, many different voices explore iconoclastic reactions to media – and the rest of us react to those reactions. That’s the goal; we’ll see how it works out.

But let me tell you the background. Not long ago, I was at a dinner of political bloggers after November’s particularly vitriolic election season. I expected to spend some time discussing the big issues, the tough races, the political future.

Instead, we spent hours and hours talking about movies. And TV shows. And books. And music and theater and even some poetry. It was incredibly enjoyable to listen to, and to participate in. So the kernel was planted: why not continue that conversation?

So a group of active bloggers and commenters has come together to experiment here in that cultural group dynamic. In the first week, you can see the wide range of topics and opinion – the hightlights include:

Jason’s list of the Top 10 Domestic Sitcoms (mine’s there too)

Lance’s homage to the talent of Edward Burns as a director of acting talent

Brendan’s essay on the cultural downside of the iPhone hype

BlueGirl’s sensitive review of Calvin Trillin’s elegy to his wife

There’s more to come. I have no idea where this will lead or whether this site will become a semi-permanent gathering spot, but I kind of hope so. And I invite you to take part in the conversation.

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Comments

  • Sean
    January 14, 2007

    Good luck Tom. Venture far and wide.

  • January 14, 2007

    Cultural observations hold the possibility of a far more wide-ranging spectrum of opinion than do political observations. Because, really, political discussions come down to two points:

    1.)Our opponents have screwed things up.
    2.) We can do a better job if given a chance.

    I participate in such discussions (as do we all) and appreciate them for their merits, but they are ultimately limited.

    A round-table, free-wheeling discussion of popular culture, on the other hand, can spin off in an infinite number of directions. It can take you from poetry to music to television, to literature, to film, to sociology and psychology, to marketing and persuasion, to technology and its role in the future…. I suspect your dinner last November touched on most, if not all, of those areas, and more besides.

    Popular culture is not a trifle, or an idle diversion. It is like water to a fish; it surrounds us and, to a large degree, it defines us. But unlike our finny friends, we can actively participate in evaluating and determining the quality of our environment. Which I suppose is what you have in mind.

    Good luck! I’ll be back.

  • January 15, 2007

    roxtar – very well said indeed! in fact, better than me…you’ve hit it exactly, just what i’d like to to try and accomplish – drop me a note if you want to author…

  • January 15, 2007

    Tom, this is a great idea for a group blog. I can’t wait to see what comes of it.

  • January 17, 2007

    I like it. Look forward to reading more… -a new reader