Sarma 23 Apr 2006English

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Contextual note
This is the statement of Eva-Elisabeth Fischer held during the Sarma-colloquium „Unfolding the Critical“ at Tanzkongress Deutschland 23.4.2006. The text was originally written in German and translated by Martin Nachbar in English. Eva-Elisabeth Fischer is a Sarma-critic, if you want to read more about her, please visit the following page Eva-Elisabeth Fischer

Criticism is when one laughs nonetheless. Thus, one could start indeed. And it seems clear who is laughing. I always get sick, when someone demands ‘constructive criticism’. The one who says that the criticized enjoys the criticism lies. Criticism is always painful. It is, of course, the critic, who thievishly gloats at his own sharp tongue and splendid formulation and laughs up his sleeve maliciously about the poor object of his criticism. So goes the common opinion. But sometimes the critic laughs gratefully, for example like Fleicitas von Lovenberg did on April 8th in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about her fortune to be a literature critic. Lovenberg describes the happiness about having read three books that gave her life an unexpected turn. Her text evolves around the fact that she loves the object she criticizes. About this, normally nobody speaks.

No matter whether he assesses books, cream sauces in gourmet restaurants or 32 hopefully successful fouettés in Swanlake, the professional critic is looked at as a cynical know-it-all suffering from an exaggerated opinion about himself, who may live out his destruction fantasies on the backs of those who do master a craft, and is even paid for it. Surely: The professional critic reacts differently than the normal consumer. In any case, he suffers from being overfed, so that the offered has to be very extraordinary and/or surprisingly new in order to reach or even touch him. If he gets too much of the ever same, he becomes polemic and sometimes even aggressive.

To speak about professional criticism is, all in all, pretty boring, because the topic is so quickly exhausted. Nonetheless, there are two characteristics in it that are worth to take a closer look at. One belongs to the realm of legend. The request for objective criticism or critics is a pure misunderstanding, if not absurd. Of course, there are objective criteria. For example the agreement that fouettés should turn on the spot with a straight standing leg for them to be flawless. At the same time, it is very well possible that the ballerina, who doesn’t straighten her leg a hundred percent and slightly wanders downstage while turning, pleases more than the perfect technician. Here, something comes in that escapes objective judgement, that possibly could summarized under the headings art and personality, something that is sublime above pure dance technique and that justifies the statement: Criticism is not always subjective. And to top it all, taste comes into the game at this point. Or, as it goes so beautifully: Everyone to his taste (this is correct but not literal; Fischer wrote something like: one sees a nightingale, the other an owl; maybe you have a dictionary of sayings to find out?)

The legendary demand for objectivity of criticism arises from the demand for a certain ethos. And this demand is fair and right. It should be an important characteristic of criticism. Criticising literally means distinguishing. The thought-through differentiation enables a thorough analysis. To distinguish one from the other does not yet imply any assessment. But often assessment goes hand in hand with unsound opinion and thus creates a stupid, undifferentiated thumbs-up and thumbs-down. Shear opinion brings the necessary subjectivity in disrepute, because having an opinion just like believing means knowing nothing. But the prerequisite of criticism is indeed the knowledge about the object to be criticised. Only if one know what he speaks about, criticism can be taken seriously and also accepted by the one criticised. This asks for attitude. Also attitude is always the opposite of opinion. Attitude means incorruptibility. And also partiality – in a very simple sense: To be for the cause and the one who masters it.
The notion of partiality has a strange taste, although it is honourable to speak up for someone or something. But in Germany’s younger history partiality was tied to ideological teachings and aesthetical stipulations. Disobeying them often resulted in nasty sanctions. Those who criticised were burnt, banned or forced to self-criticism, meaning that they were condemned to pillory themselves. In the best case they were disqualified from their profession or hushed up. In these cases, the officially allowed criticism was a caricature of itself: servile, reassuring affirmation of the system.

In Germany national-socialism and pure blooded German art was promoted; in 1968 a minute minority had an idealizing eye on the People’s Republic of China and ignored the bloody blessings of the cultural revolution; in one half of Germany, the so-called ‘really existing socialism’ was established and with it, the dictate of socialistic realism in all the arts fields. Every criticism that would really deserve the name was undesired and was eliminated.

In Germany today everybody can criticise everything and everybody else freely. As politics, ideology and morals, and yes, not even so-called good taste anymore, prescribe anything, some critics believe they themselves should make politics and create opinions. These are the ones who take themselves as the standard of all things and confuse criticism with a cheap and easy instrument of power. To laugh about this, though, exceeds sometimes even the best humour.