Levy asked Barthes, "Sir, who are critics?" Barthes replied, "They are trash… They are very dangerous trash. They survive nibbling leftovers after history's gone. But such trash is dangerous because they spread an epidemic. When trash spread an idea by spreading an epidemic, they become something creative." If Roland Barthes had to put it through Twitter or Facebook, the only message he could possibly convey would be "They are trash." And, that's exactly what is happening now. Criticism is dead.
What are behind its death?
The fact criticism is dead appears to be so fair and clear now that even talking about it seems moot. However, we should not take it for granted, nor is criticism something parasitic to culture. Just like there cannot be criticism without culture, there cannot be culture without criticism. Then, what are behind criticism's death?
"Welcome to Twitter! Express your idea in 140 characters!" That's one violent sentence. What's more violent is that we are not aware of its violence, since SNS prompts us to have immediate responses and makes us believe that to think deeply for long periods is something old-fashioned. You might contradict this stance in saying that such a limitation in the number of letters helps us ponder more because we've got to succinctly compose our messages when we post them through SNS. However, we have forced uniformity in composing our thoughts. We are not given any choice other than writing in 140 characters, which is akin to shackled and chains. Little by little, your thought that might have once started out as a prose would be confined in the formational limitation and become scribbles, not a poem! McLuhan's right, the medium is the message. In this case, the medium that forces you to think and write simply finally dominates over your message. Nobody cares about the classics now and Ha Sanguk and Djuna have become the leaders of the new era. People in our generation cannot bear lengthy writings anymore. They don't listen to what other people think, and in such indifference, criticism is fading behind the lonely shadow of culture.
Do you remember what happened when the film critic Heo Jiung criticized Ode to My Father? People figuratively ripped at him. If those comments from people who didn't agree with him were reasonable, I would say it is a great manifestation of democracy where every opinion is exchanged with thoughtful discussion. Unfortunately, the reason why people were so angry with him had nothing to do with any logic or essence in his criticism. They didn't even look at why he was saying so. Regretfully, their blinded rage lies in the mere fact that he disvalued the movie which impressed them so much.
Nowadays, people act like online paranoiacs. They accuse intellectuals or other people whose opinions are different from their own for various reasons. According to them, intellectuals are people who like to boast, sit back, and do nothing practical. In such social circumstances, critics who are destined to retrace all the tracks that human beings have left behind are one of the easiest targets to be attacked. Even the youth who are supposed to crave knowledge are caught in the same disease. The fact that they haven't read 'Sorrows of Werther' is not necessarily problematic, and it may even be palatable if they have no idea about who Goethe is. However, the problem is that they are indifferent at such things and even feel repulsion toward them. Considering that such anti-intellectualism once was a basis for Nazi ideological propaganda, we cannot just neglect this.
World without criticism
Obviously the world is changing, but such changes do not always guarantee progress. If they are not evaluated properly and nobody puts the brakes on wrong things, the situation becomes a perfect world for tyrants like Hitler. Likewise, when it comes to culture, if criticism does not accompany art, then one particular art work that might or might not be very qualified can win the jackpot. Thus, the market would be dominated only with that piece especially in a capitalistic society. Then, sadly, the rest of the other art works lose their place and consequently consumers are deprived of any choices in consuming. Look into any movie theater and you would see it. A monopoly in the Korean film market has been getting exceedingly severe since the new century has begun, and that is exactly when film criticism started to lose its power. Therefore, when you want to watch Hong Sangsu or Kim Gideok's newly released films, you have to look for virtually all the theaters in the country because there are only few that offer them.
Were it not for people who had traced back with a profound love for artwork, Gogh's masterpieces would have never been able to come out of his old drawer. We should know that when we are killing criticism with a sword of indifference and ignorance, we are actually killing artists who might have been Gogh. And there will be a day when we have to face that sword soon.
황경림 기자 firstname.lastname@example.org