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September 05, 2006

Comments

Lisa Hunter

Lots of writers keep busy. I don't think being "overstretched" is the real issue here. There's too much Schadenfreud floating around.

JL

I don't think being "overstretched" is the real issue here. There's too much Schadenfreud floating around.

Well, "overstreched" was probably the wrong word. "Out of his depth" probably comes closer to what I meant. That is, here's a guy who's a book critic, a lit guy, and general essayist. Then at some point he starts writing tv criticism, but no one much is bothered by that, as it's not a field with high status, and he's probably as capable as anybody else. But when he moved to doing art criticism, he went into an area where there were a lot of people more informed and more capable--I'm not saying I'm one of them, but obviously they're out there. His stuff on art for Slate was nowhere near the level of sophistication that one finds in the book reviews--at best, it's casual museum visitor talk dressed up as critical pedagogy.

The mother load came when he moved into politics and broader cultural issues on a blog at a high-profile magazine website. Then he started whacking at hornet's nests that were far larger than he bargained for. That, along with the fact that he really didn't behave himself well, accounts for a lot of the schadenfreude.

Dan

> ...at best, it's casual museum visitor talk dressed up as critical pedagogy.

Ha! So kind.

I guess we've dwelled enough on Siegel at his worst by this point, though, haven't we?

You're right about that review of Paglia, though, on both counts.

That it "has a number of smart and levelheaded things to say" is all the more striking when you hold it up against his art writing (which I spent far too long slogging through yesterday evening) or his run on the TNR blogging platform.

And to say that it "contains some retrospective ironies" is flirting with understatement. To watch Lee wrestle there with a provocateur bent on making a mockery of culture he clearly holds dear, I can't help but feel a sort of kinship with him.

I mean, the phrase "playground shouts of Look at Me" is just too apt, isn't it?

What's more:

"In her quest for relevance and urgency... Paglia loads onto her readings the kind of submarine-sandwich-like Big Ideas with which college freshmen pad the final-exam essays they never studied for."

"Titillation is one of Paglia's trustiest tools."

"To invoke two other writers from the past, Paglia used to come on like Byron; now she is like some cynical version of Dickens's Oliver Twist, trampling on her very own standards, stooping as low as she can go in order to get a second helping of attention from the public that has forgotten her. But bullies always end up being reduced to their inner weakling. It's called poetic justice."

Poetic justice indeed, Lee.

JL

Ha! So kind.

Perhaps--I didn't go back and actually look. What I meant was, it's ok for the casual visitor, hanging out with a friend, to throw up her hands at work she doesn't care to bother with, to allow her personal tastes and limits freedom in looking at art. It may not be the best practice, at least not all the time, but there's no responsibility like there is on the part of a critic. Siegel (in my recollection) took that attitude, perhaps considering it boldly contrarian, even when it only made his criticism seem small. He also, in some of the podcasts I heard, seemed to assume that his audience knew nothing of art and needed to be babied into it.

One wonders, given the quotes from the Paglia review, how the moment of its composition matches with his activities at TNR. And hey, Lee Siegel: the Camille Paglia of art criticism? Or was she the Lee Siegel of lit crit avant la lettre?

. . . and that, I think, brings to an end my Siegel blogging, at least until any new twists in the story emerge.

Dan

> Perhaps--I didn't go back and actually look.

Well, I wasted a lot of my time so that others might waste a bit less...

I really just meant that you're being fair enough to characterize him at his best rather than to dwell on him at his worst. I do think "casual museum visitor talk dressed up as critical pedagogy" is a good description of his art writing at its most harmless.

He also dresses up his fluff in the garb of theorectical reflection. Again, he writes of Paglia:

"In her quest for relevance and urgency... Paglia loads onto her readings the kind of submarine-sandwich-like Big Ideas with which college freshmen pad the final-exam essays they never studied for."

This strikes me as a pretty apt description of something like this high wankery from Siegel regarding Elizabeth Murray:

"Three-dimensionality connotes objects existing in real space, which means that they exist in real time. Tradition, or history, is objects existing in real space, in real time. Historical time, however, is past, dead, static. Originality in the moment of its operation presents, on the other hand, a living, subjective energy."

Reading this makes my brain hurt a little, but otherwise it's just harmless chatter.

> He also, in some of the podcasts I heard, seemed to assume that his audience knew nothing of art and needed to be babied into it.

There's quite a bit of hand holding, to be sure, as well as a good deal of iconoclastic hand-waving ('that Matisse sucks, all those Picassos suck, Picasso's portrait of Stein really sucks, and even my Jewish grandmother could tell you that that Léger over there sucks').

But he moves somewhere beyond mere awkward pedagogy or dilettante wankery when he goes on to talk about Edward Hopper's sexualization of meat and "voluptuous" melons in Table for Ladies or says, "I don't think Picasso ever painted anything that didn't arouse him, including goats and cats." (Aroused by goats, and yet he couldn't get it up for Gertrude Stein?)

But I don't mean to drag this out beyond its sell-by date... really. How about those Patriots? Tom Brady, still a dreamboat...

JL

Well, I wasted a lot of my time so that others might waste a bit less...

Have mercy! Ok, that's a lot of bad stuff, really bad. I blame Slate more than Siegel for that, though--they should have known better.

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