[Evan Kindley]

For all these reasons, Let’s Talk About Love must be accounted a success—a milestone, even. Still, why return to the scene of the triumph a mere seven years later? The 2014 edition of Let’s Talk About Love boasts a new subtitle (Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste), a new afterword by Wilson, and 13 additional essays by divers hands. The least essential of these are by performers, including the actor James Franco and the musicians Krist Novoselic and Owen Pallett, which have their moments but ultimately feel beside the point. Better are the meditations on related themes of taste, shame, and sentimentality by the critics Ann Powers, Daphne A. Brooks, and Sukhdev Sandhu and the novelist Sheila Heti, Wilson’s ex-wife, who makes a couple of uncredited cameos in the original text. (Powers’s essay, a reflection on her mother’s death that posits that “[o]rdinary women’s unsolicited opinions and preferences are hugely influential within the broad experience of material culture,” is particularly lovely.) Other pieces respond more directly to Let’s Talk About Love. The producer and critic Jason King fills out the somewhat underdeveloped musicological aspect of Wilson’s book, while the electronic musician and literary scholar Drew Daniel updates his analysis by pointing out that Dion’s music is already being reclaimed by the same subcultures that previously spurned it—an index, perhaps, of her declining mass popularity: “the result of this downgrade from superabundant superstar to passé icon is that she is now (over)ripe for hipster re-appropriation.”

All of these essays feel like extensions of the methodology and reigning assumptions of Let’s Talk About Love, salted with occasional praise for the original book. A little of this goes a long way, and the pitfall here would be to fill up the back half of the new edition with what amount to extended blurbs. To Wilson’s credit, though, he seems to genuinely want to “keep the dialogue in motion,” as he puts it, and to that end he includes some pretty thoroughgoing critiques of his project along with the kudos. In her essay “The Easiest Thing to Forget,” the novelist Mary Gaitskill (who claims never to have heard Céline Dion before reading the book) gets in some entertaining jabs at “the horrible baroque language of modern criticism, a layering upon layering of poses, assumptions, interpretations and second-guesses trip-wired to catch the uncool.” While she writes that, reading the book, she came “to like and admire Wilson for his empathic and imaginative willingness to pick his way through the dark maze of signifiers and referents,” Gaitskill also admits that she “wanted to say [to him], ‘Good grief, man, music is about sound; that social-meaning shit is … basically shit.’” Referring to a passage in which Wilson puts Dion’s emotional reaction to the looting after Hurricane Katrina in the context of her humble French-Canadian origins, Gaitskill responds:

While there have always been and always will be stunted creatures who make fun of people for showing emotion that said creatures are uncomfortable with, why does a plainly sophisticated, generous and intelligent critic need to marshal lengthy cultural analysis to explain to his equally sophisticated cohort why a person might get emotional and even cry at the sight of her fellows wretchedly suffering day after day after day? Really, you have to explain why that is “culturally sound”?Gaitskill’s dismissal of cultural studies and the sociology of taste as “that social-meaning shit” is blunter but otherwise not far from the position, taken by Marco Roth and the editors of n+1 (hereafter Roth) in their much-discussed 2013 polemic “Too Much Sociology,” that “[f]ew things are less contested today than the idea that art mostly expresses class and status hierarchies, and only secondarily might have snippets of aesthetic value.” “Think back to the first time you heard someone casually talk of ‘cultural capital’ at a party,” Roth writes, “… or use the words strategize, negotiate, positioning, or leveraging in a discussion of a much admired ‘cultural producer’s’ career.” According to Roth (speaking, here, for many humanists), such inside-baseball conversations miss the point of art, allowing a cynical explanatory discourse to take the place of sympathy, appreciation, or, for that matter, formal critique.


Of course, the fact that transcending oneself won’t solve all the world’s problems doesn’t invalidate it as a spiritual exercise. We could all afford to try transcending our own points of view a little more often. Nor is Wilson’s vision of “a more pluralistic” or “dialogic criticism” a non-starter simply because it’s based on a liberal chimera (what Drew Daniel nicely calls “the fantasy of taste on behalf of being better at understanding others”). Inviting other writers to participate in what Wilson calls “a cocktail party in prose” is one way to strive toward that dialogic ideal, and probably a sounder one than the heroic process of self-overcoming represented by Let’s Talk About Love. There’s no denying that the book is a virtuoso performance on multiple levels, still more so in this generous new edition. But I hope Wilson’s next book will be less concerned with the dialectic of self-flagellation and self-congratulation, and more willing to talk openly, without shame, about what he really loves.

Uma resenha bastante justa do livro de Carl Wilson, este último que já pode ser considerado um clássico das batalhas que o popismo luta há algum tempo já.


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