The Ebert Episode

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/25/09


  Earlier this month, Cosmoetica and I got a big boost when famed film critic Roger Ebert praised my abilities as a writer and a critic after a former cyberstalker of mine-cum-fan emailed him a query to settle a bet he had over whether or not I was a good critic of Ebertís own work. The former stalker, one Peter Svensland (although known to me by that and several other aliases over the years), emailed Ebert a long query. A month or so earlier, before Ebertís blog post- http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/12/who_do_you_read.html- this character had emailed me that he was going to do so. I was dubious (to say the least) because most blogs answer or edit questions down to a line or two. Also, I had failed, back in early-mid 2007 to get Ebert to do a written interview with me, and was basically given a brush off of the type many celebrities have Ďtheir peopleí do. Thus, due to length, my failure to get Ebert, and the fact that I was often critical of Ebertís work, I sensed the email as the beginning of another bout of harassment from said individual.

  Fortunately, I was wrong. In the ensuing weeks, of course, Iíd forgotten all about the email claim to Ebert, until, after work one day, I got a followup email from the initial emailer. He was in ecstasies over being recognized by the Ďgreat man.í Now and forever, of course, his name would be tied to Ebertís in web searches. This was, of course, what I believed to be his real reason, and that my writing was just the tool to secure such. To my utter shock, however, Ebert reprinted the Tolstoyan length email in toto, and commented favorably on my critical abilities. Naturally, when manna falls, you use it, so I expanded my website to include a section on praise my websiteís gotten. Over the years itís received praise here and there, but Iíve always been loath to use such. The Ebert praise, however, would be folly if I wasted it. And Ebert himself had no problems with my using it. I had a brief email correspondence with him, and he seems to be just as his persona on television: decent, witty, and vivacious. Of course, as expected, his sycophantic fanbase, despite his kind words (and, realistically, my overall favorable assessment) has not been as kind; instead taking to the most obvious points of sucking up. Some time next year, when time allows, Iíll write a more expansive essay on this episode, specific to the points raised by my writings, the emailerís beliefs, Ebertís comments, and those of his blog posters. But, for now, a brief chronological recapitulation (with annotation) of a few clarifying posts I made on my Cinemension blog. 


Roger Ebert Praises Cosmoetica And My Film Criticism

A bizarre turn of events in the last few days. Back in 2007 I tried for months to get film critic Roger Ebert to be interviewed for my then new interview series. He was one of the top 5 or so names that I wanted, along with Steven Pinker, Charles Johnson, and Desmond Morris (whom I got) and Woody Allen and Werner Herzog (whom I've not- although Herzog remains a possibility).
For months I emailed Ebert at his newspaper, as well as his tv show. I even called the paper twice, and may have even left a voicemail. I then even tried to look up his booking/speaking agent. But, not a nibble. Of course, he had major medical problems then, so that would have likely factored into things.
Then, last night, I get this email from this nutty fan (who used to cyberstalk me back in the days I went to poetry readings in the Twin Cities) stating that a letter he wrote to Ebert, about me- or rather my opinions about Ebert's opinions- had somehow become the subject of a long column by Ebert, himself.
About a month ago I got an email from said person, who told me he had just done the deed, but knowing the fellow as being unstable (I'm being VERY generous), and not having heard from him in 5 or 6 years, I figured it was BS. Add to that the fact that my own entreaties, several years ago had gotten me nowhere, and I laughed it all off as a delusion that he'd even get a personal reply, much less that Ebert would actually think favorably of my website and opinions.
Without going into the grim details, this person seems to have spent the better part of his life in and out of 'happy farms,' but is a good representation of what I've long said: that the line between some of my more obsessive fans and those of delusional cyberstalkers of my site is very thin. He's not the first hater to become a fan of mine, and who knows what near death experiences or drug therapies may have contributed to his turn in my favor? But it certainly is ironic that one of the many, many delusional idiot cyberstalker types that I've had over the years actually, in the long run, ends up doing me a favor- bigger than pieces on me that ran online, in City Pages, or in the New York Times have done.
All of this also comes at a very busy time of the year for me, as this is the busiest season at work. But, I will send Roger Ebert a personal thank you in a day or two, once things calm down a bit, and in time to be read by him on Monday morning, as well as ask him a couple of other things (barring I am not so tired I fall asleep when I get home).
So, thanks to Mr. Ebert, thanks to the vagaries of psychosis, and let me end this post with Ebert's specific comments:

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a friend have been debating about my qualities as a film critic, and they've involved a considerable critic, Dan Schneider, in their discussion. I will say that he (Ebert means me) has given the question a surprising amount of thought and attention over the years, and may well be correct in some aspects. What his analysis gives me is a renewed respect and curiosity about his own work....
(then a very lengthy and rambling email- with links, photos, and quotes by me and Ebert- follows, and the piece ends with this)
I suggest you buy one of those big T-bones and share it.
Dan Schneider is observant, smart, and makes every effort to be fair. I would agree that I am a more emotion-driven critic than Siskel or Schneider, and indeed many others. My reviews usually include a reflection of how I felt during a film, since film itself is primarily an emotional, not a cerebral, medium. For example, although like most everybody I found "Triumph of the Will" evil, I also lingered on how boring it was. If you're not comfortable sitting through a film, what can you easily get from it?

I must say I still agree with my opinions as quoted by Schneider, and I conclude he is more analytical and less visceral that I am. Readers find critics who speak to them. What is remarkable about these many words is that Schneider keeps an open mind, approaches each film afresh, and doesn't always repeat the same judgments. An ideal critic tries to start over again with every review.
There are three things on which we adamantly disagree. (1) I do not have a broader film knowledge than Donald Richie, and Schneider may be the only person who has ever thought so. (2) I disagree with his dismissal of Spielberg. The man who made "E.T." is not a schlockmeister purveying tripe. (3) The third is Ingrid Bergman, and my "burblings" about her lips. A critic who doesn't acknowledge the role of her face and presence in a "Casablanca" will, I fear, date just about anybody. Our critical differences I leave to you. I invite you to continue your discussion in the Comments below.
In the matter of Ingrid Bergman, I offer the final word to Miss Bergman.

A final note, I had never even heard of this Armond White critical clown until this all came up, but in looking over some of his film reviews (and I agree- he's a contrarian with political and personal axes to grind), he reminds me of this homeless fellow who wrote for alternative newspapers in the Twin Cities. His writings were also borderline paranoid and incoherent, and- surprise, surprise- he obsessed over me to the point where I had to go to court and get a restraining order on him because, like the initial emailer, he was a former mental patient. (And, no, I'm not claiming White's a nutcase, just that his writing and critical faculties devolve down to that level.)
Ah, mental illness, who knows what wonders it hath wrought?
Again, thanks to Ebert, but really, Roger, that photo of Ingrid- cheap shot, baby, but maybe it was a winner, after all! ;-)

  I still stand by my assessments of Ebertís criticism of film, and only want to add that Ebert seems to have been perhaps the only person in his thread to recognize that an attack on a specific position one takes is not ad hominem; unlike his commenters, who talk many personal shots at me based on nothing more than my comments on Ebertís abilities.


Ebert Epilogue

Had a nice, brief email exchange with Roger Ebert. Very nice, classy guy. Have to admire, whether you agree with him or not, how he's always willing to champion an unknown film, critic, documentary, cause, etc., just because he believes in it.
Ebert is a walker- he walks the walk, whether you agree with his talk or not. I respect that because I practice it, as well. Too often, the talkers dominate. Most readers and commenters on blogs (Ebert's, political blogs, celebrity blogs, arts, social networks) could take a lesson.
I filled in a bit of the background to him, in answer to a query he posted in the comments about not understanding cyberstalking (of me, or anyone else). In short, I'm no Herlof's Marte. Never have been, am not, never will be. If you cross the line, I'm not afraid to toss you and yours back over it.
As to a few other points re: the depressingly predictable thread that follows the piece: many folks seem to not 'get' that the pieces I do on films, while called 'reviews' (for the sake of search engines), are more formally essays, and, since I concentrate on older films, I care not of spoilers, and usually review not only the film and DVD presentation, but also the misconceptions many have about certain films. This includes the critical opinions of the day. I also am not fixated on Roger Ebert- a dozen or so mentions, of the most famous critic of the day, out of hundreds of essays I've written, is hardly much (especially given that I come down in the middle in regards to Ebert's career). One need only look at the times I mention (read- mock, skewer) Bosley Crowther, the laughably bad film critic of the New York Times, from the mid-20th Century (the Ebert of his day, in terms of power and influence).
But, for those interested in the needed 'cleanup' of the film criticism (be it 'pop' or 'serious' film theory crapola) that's been laying fallow for decades, I'd suggest interested readers read, among others, my defense of It's A Wonderful Life, my take on Au Hasard Balthazar, my praise of La Jetee over the crap of Stan Brakhage, my piece on My Kid Could Paint That, and my debunking of some of the crap and critical cribbing written about Last Year In Marienbad and Blowup. And, for fun, read my take on L'Eclisse. I do not try to tell people what to think, instead show them how to think- a craft lost in this day and age.
As for Ebert, here's hoping his ills lessen and he can stick around for quite a few more years, on the lighter side of the soil.

  This post was in response to emailers asking me the usual inane sort of questions, often snidely. Hereís the next one, where I upped the ante with Ebert on his claims about Ingrid Bergman:


Breathless's Jean Seberg

Jean-Luc Godard was a bad filmmaker who rose to mediocrity, then faded back to nada. He was part of a bad group of film critics for a magazine called Cahiers du Cinema. I mention this because I was recently thinking of his first film, the Charles Bukowskian 'so bad some idiots think it's genius' film, Breathless. The link will give you my take on this lame film.
But, in scanning over some of the increasingly inane comments over at Roger Ebert's post about me, and aside from the silly digressions on Hitler, perhaps the oddest claims (made by Ebert and others) is how the film Casablanca is so geared toward the beauty of Ingrid Bergman. True, she is highlighted, and she was quite a looker, in her day. So?
The film is not even about her character, nor even the two men in her life's takes on her. To read some of the comments one would think she was the first actress to ever be adored by a film camera. Hello? Two words: Greta Garbo.
But, this returns me to Seberg:

Godard and his camera fetishize her even more than Curtiz did Bergman. And, while Casablanca's not a great film, it is a fun film. Breathless is neither. But Breathless is far more about the beauty of Seberg, by Ebert's definition of 'face time', than Casablanca is about Bergman. And, let's face it, attraction is subjective, beauty is not, and Seberg's face is as flawlessly symmetrical as Halle Berry's. In short, Ingrid was a babe, but Seberg was a goddess. I'm talking rival to Grace Kelly gorgeous.
But, again: so? Does her beauty make Godard's bad film good? No. Neither does Bergman's lesser beauty make the solid and enjoyable Casablanca a great film.
A few other cleanup points: I'm hardly a snob. On Cosmoetica I've written of soap operas, Godzilla films, and pro wrestling, enjoying them all. There's simply a difference between liking something and its quality. I like many bad works of art, and dislike great ones. But, I recognize the differences. I like Richard Brautigan's doggerel, but don't really like Ingmar Bergman films. But, I know Bergman was a great artist. However, Saraband was a terrible film. And I didn't like it. Plan 9 From Outer Space is a terrible film. So is Robot Monster. I love them. It's really not difficult to grasp. No one has ever said it's wrong- in a moral sense- to like bad art. But, acknowledge the bias. I prefer Roger Moore to Sean Connery as James Bond. I can make good arguments as to why. But, on a purely acting level, Connery's a better actor. So? I like Moore's irreverent Bond more. But, I acknowledge my bias. That's not snobbery. It's honesty and intelligence.
Folk like the Cahiers du Cinema critics were snobs, broadbrushing whole schools of work, rather than seeing good and bad in all. They were the film school/film theory/auteurist snobs. Folk like Ebert or Siskel or Maltin are pop critics of film. I bridge the gap between both, exposing both the extremes' flaws: the fundamentalism of the snobs and the embracing of dumbed down culture of the pop crowd.
On a small note: I've gotten some bizarre emails re: this whole thread- ranging from the sinister to the absurd. On the dark side, an emailer who claimed to have posted on the thread issued me a dire warning that the original emailer to Ebert, Peter Svensland, had intended his email to cause Ebert to unleash a firestorm of scorn against me- thereby consigning my website to a Dantean outer ring, but it all backfired, and that there might be hell to pay from a cyberstalker's revenge denied. Well, while I wouldn't put it by that character, I doubt it. I do believe I may have been just a tool to get Ebert's attention because when the great man deigned to recognize him, he went into ecstasies, and this is a familiar pattern with stalker types. Either way, this isn't 2001, and I'm much more prepared for shenanigans of the cyber/virus sort.
On the absurd side, one of my biggest fans thinks I blew it with Ebert. He claims that Ebert is on his death bed and (having watched too many samurai films) was looking for a successor to bequeath his critical fiefdom to, and that I was not suitably deferential enough ('You gotta kiss the brass ring, Baby!'). This fellow, I know, is harmless, although his own home planet is a place I do not think I'll travel to. But, if correct, it means I won't 'own' Chicago, like Ebert, and Capone, before him. Too bad, I've always heard Chicago had fine babes.
Natheless, I'll always have Jeannie:

Y'all can have Ingrid!

  Naturally, the flood of stupidity continued, and so I again had to expound on minor points from Ebertís blog post:


Subtitles, Likes, Hitler, etc.

Naturally, more people are contacting me re: the Ebert column referencing me. Rather than reply and repeat the same things ad nauseam, it's simpler to address them in toto, here.
First, let's take the Hitler references. Here is my quote of Ebert's quote of Svensland's quote of my quote of Ebert's quote (whew!):

Critic-at-large, Roger Ebert, rightly took Denby to task for his puerility, stating, "I do not feel the film provides 'a sufficient response' to what Hitler actually did,' because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient." But, after such a concise summation, he then adds, of Hitler, "He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil."
This is a remark clearly mindful of Louis Farrakhan's claims, a few years back, that Hitler was a "great man," that unleashed a firestorm, but it is also logically self-defeating, and shows that Ebert is not only not a student of history, but much better in phrasing words than thinking out their logical consequences. Hitler did not merely waltz onto the world stage, and have everything fall into his la-p- from admirers to world events. He had a precise blueprint, aka Mein Kampf, worked for years perfecting his "craft," demagoguery, and actively shaped his future. He came within two or three bad decisions of wiping out Eurasian Jewry, and even more minorities, as well as the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Like it or not, Hitler was a great man, as were Stalin and Mao, and Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great before them. Mass murderers all, but all great, as long as one is mindful that great does not only mean 'good' nor 'decent,' and that great men also can have great flaws.

Now, reread the last sentence. there simply is nothing to argue with.
Click and read the definitions. Hitler (or Stalin or Mao, etc.) clearly qualify in 2 or 3 of the meanings.
Whether one believes in the Great Man Theory of history, contingent history, or the reality that history is a mix of both, again, Hitler and his genocidal pals clearly qualify.
So, other than attempting to morally grandstand, whilst showing a profound deficit of gray matter, why would anyone argue the point? Ok, sycophantism to the man who runs the blog, yes. But, after that?
Morality has a very dubious association with art. Picasso was a misogynist. Rilke was an adulterer and bad father. Sylvia Plath was a psychotic. And on and on. One affects not the other. If Dr. Mengele were a great poet, as example, would it be wrong to print or praise his poems? Of course not. If Ted Bundy created great sculptures, would it be wrong to praise his art? Of course not. The person and the art are discrete things.
As for subtitles. I always chuckle when folks who do not recognize what many great directors have claimed, that a great film ALWAYS starts with a great screenplay, but instead claim that film is a visual medium (duh!) that is outside the scope and strictures of 'mere narrative, turn around, and with a straight face claim that subtitles (which cover up to a third of the screen, and force one to read and miss key visuals) are better than dubbing.
First, even poorly dubbed Godzilla films show how utterly irrelevant misaligned lips are, because no one really notices them. Think I'm wrong? Yasujiro Ozu's films prove the dictum that eyelines must match in countershots wrong because no one ever complains about such (save for a few film school diehards with axes to grind).
Second, watch the Spider Trilogy of films By Ingmar Bergman. Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence, all vividly prove the superiority of dubbing. First, the very use of a different voice aids in the definition of character apart from a familiar actor- see Max Von Sydow in the films. Each different dubbed voice aids in separating Max from the characters. Also, dubbed voice actors are amongst the best actors going precisely because they have to act with that one faculty. Their 'acting' can often improve a mediocre performance by the physical actor. And, think of how many effective cartoon characters have been conveyed through voice alone.
Of course, a good subtitling job beats bad dubbing, but good dubbing beats good subtitling with ease. When I rewatch foreign DVDs with commentary, and am free to watch the visuals unencumbered by subtitles, I often pick up the things that may have been 'missing' in the film. Thus, I often get the more 'complete' film (usually for the better) because of the LACK of subtitles. Anyone who claims differently, or that they can read and watch the screen simultaneously is doing the scientifically impossible. This is precisely why texting and cell phone car accidents have soared int he last decade. It simply cannot be done.
Of course, subtitles have myriad problems aside from those mentioned. There is the problem of undubbed dialogue. How many times have you seen a character talk onscreen for 45 seconds or so, and only a sentence or two of translation is shown? Uh-huh. And how about words that blanch out against a light background, making them unreadable, even whilst squinting? The Criterion Collection, a top notch DVD company, is rightly lambasted by many reviewers (including me) for the fact that, especially their old black and white releases are shown with unbordered white lettering. If one is going to fuck up a film with graffiti, at least let the shit be bold enough to be made out legibly and readably. Imagine, if you will, going to a museum, to see Picasso's Guernica, and instead of the museum's explanatory plaque being to the side of the painting, it was, instead, bolted over the agonal mien of the dying horse in the painting. Think that might not affect your experience of the painting? The visual equivalent comes in Ozu films that depend upon low set tatami mat shots, wherein many great shots are utterly rent by subtitles.
So, now that I've yet again trounced the ridiculous notion that subtitles are better than dubbing, let me turn to some other things: likes and dislikes. My claim, re: Ebert has always been simple- he's an average film critic (in terms of ability to discern quality), a very good writer, but an excellent film historian, film commentarian (yes, that is a word!), and a marvelous film buff. How this has been misconstrued that I don't like Roger Ebert is silly. Did I label him a tax cheat, a pedophile, a serial killer? No. Re: Gene Siskel, I think he 'got' the art of film at a fundamentally deeper level, but Ebert was always better at expressing his views.
And there is a difference between good and bad reviews, and positive and negative reviews. There are essays and reviews of things that I hold a contrary opinion of (see William F. Buckley's columns) but that are excellent. They are presented well. A positive review can be good, if well thought out and written, or it can be a bad review if poorly wrought and cogitated upon. Same goes for negative reviews. Good and positive and bad and negative are simply not synonyms.
And, ironically, whereas the initial emailer who kicked off this Ebertfest claimed an 80-90% agreement with Siskel's views over Ebert's (when they disagreed), the fact is that I probably only sided with Siskel 2/1. Yes, I think Siskel got things more, but not to the degree that was stated in the original email (and, incidentally, assented to by a number of the commenters who laughably then turn around and claim that i was dissing Ebert). Even the initial emailers turned up a dead heat in terms of critical opinions on films I mentioned Ebert's and my opinions on: 6 assents, 6 dissents, and two draws- I've never formally reviewed Taxi Driver yet.
As for 'like,' though, the fact is that while I did agree with Siskel more, there's no doubt that Ebert always was the more ingratiating personality, and like most, if I was asked to choose, I'd probably have preferred to broken bread with Ebert (no offense to Siskel) because a) he seemed more personable and b) we'd argue more (in the dialectic, not fisticuffs) sense. Arguing is simply fun. How else does one learn, if not from things that differ?
But, Siskel had a better critical temperament. He was more dispassionate (but not in the sense of lacking passion); he was just 'cooler.' That's the way I approach things, with dispassion critically, but also with abundant wit. Look at film reviews from a Rex reed or Pauline Kael if you want dry, dull writing. No one has ever said Ebert lacked passion for films or writing of them. But, it's silly to see the claims that others (me included) are somehow not passionate, or clinical. Being detailed and explaining things in depth actually aids in understanding. That, however, is 'arrogant'? If you are famed, you have passion if forceful and persuasive. If not, then you are arrogant. Reminds me of the double standard for women. Men who are go getters are determined and career-minded. Their female equivalents are cold hard bitches.
As for Armond White, the odd thing is that he is FAR more emotional than Ebert. He lacks almost any intellectual critical ability (having scanned a dozen or so of his reviews the last few days). Mr. Ebert is Mr. Spock in comparison to White, so how the hell I ever got mentioned in the same breath as White is pretty wacky. The more I read of White the more it confirms just how much in need of cleanup film criticism is.
Finally, as to elitism- of course I'm an elitist. We all are, and should be! Do you want a bad doctor to examine you, a bad dentist to pull your teeth? It's the type of elitism. If it is based on things outside of quality, that's the bad sort. Money, religion, race, professions, are simply not things that elitism is applicable to- although how one does their job (janitor or Senator) is something that falls under that purview. When someone starts trying to apply a belief in ethics, politics, religion, etc. to art, and claim an elitism on that basis, it is not only wrong, but silly. But, the definable measures of quality that all arts have, are under the purview of quality- the good sort.
One can reasonably agree or not about great artists and works, as to which is greater, but it's silly to compare widely disparate things. Comparing a Three Stooges comedy short to a documentary from Louis Malle is silly, as is trying to compare the cliche ridden garbage of a Steven Spielberg to, say, the well written films of Joe Mankiewicz. Does Spielberg have some talent? Sure, as a cinematographer, but his puerility as a storyteller is only exceeded by the Quentin Tarantinos and Tim Burtons of filmdom. To use his name in a league with Welles, Bergman, Antonioni, Angelopolous, Kurosawa, etc., proves only one of two things- the claimant is either witty or dumb.
Choose your poison!

  Then, another query that needed a reply. This got me to distill points Iíve long imparted to grateful young wannabe artists:


Why Do You Do It?

Of all the emails and queries I've gotten in response to the Roger Ebert blog post, the titular question raised is probably the most interesting. Thankfully, Ebert's fans, when emailing me, have been significantly less troll-like than the fans of other blogs (especially political ones), but some of the questions, as I've addressed in a few earlier posts, are still so mind-numbingly banal.
I mean, the things I write of simply are not that controversial if one really cogitates on them with logic. They are not only correct, but manifestly so. One of the canards I always seem to have to debunk is the claim that all art is political. This is so silly, of course, and I often rebut by simply telling the claimants to substitute the phrase 'about poodles' for the word 'art,' and one will see that the logic (or illogic) of the statement is not affected in the least.
All art is about poodles. To claim that all art is not about poodles is to say that one does not live and converse in a world with poodles. To claim that art is not about poodles is merely to demonstrate how little one is willing to talk about poodles and their relevance to the everyday world. All art has to be about poodles. And on and on. Art, of course, comes from the same root word as artifice is based upon: the Latin ars. Art is about a fake thing (unreal) conveying some information about real things.
Art is not only not about politics; although individual works of art can be, as long as the art in the art is not overwhelmed by the politics (or religion, philosophy, etc.), but art is also not truth. It can contain or reveal truths, but art is fundamentally a lie. It CANNOT be truth, no more than darkness can be light, although darkness, as film shows, can craft and define light.
But, back to the simple query one lone emailer sent me- with no real name attached. The query might have meant why do I run the website, why do I write essays or criticism, or why do I create art? Or all of that and more. Simply, because I can. I have an ability to distill and transfer wisdom that most people cannot get into things that are digestible.
Here is what art is: communication, and at its highest level. Art is a verb, first, then a noun. A work of art, a film, as example, may have a political or religious or philosophic message, but its art is in how it sends the message. Bad philosophy can come in great art, and great philosophy can be kyboshed in bad art. Modern multicultural PC often is a good idea mangled in bad art. Great art, even if transferring a bad idea, helps illumine the cosmos and the self.
And, as someone capable of producing great art, why would I demur dispensing that to others? Also, as one capable of helping others understand others' great art, why would I not want to do that? If this is not passion, what is?
And while greatness, in life or the arts, certainly has some subjectivity, there are objective things. Subjectivity, to exist, must be total. One objective fact objectifies all around it for everything then can be measured and/or parallaxed against that one objective fact. But, an objective universe, as the one we inhabit, has plenty of room for subjectivity. I can and have shown why certain works of art are objectively great or bad, but never have I precluded anyone (myself included) from liking a bad work of art. Why would I? When I grade a poem or any other artwork, there is a degree of argumentation between it and a similarly graded work. But, simply put, a poorly wrought and trite limerick is not the equal of a great sonnet by me, Wordsworth, or Rilke. Subjectivity and objectivity are not mutually exclusive. They inform each other. But, recognize their realities, do not obfuscate them. I am not a woman, not an Eskimo, not a lesbian, not a Jew, not an elephant. These are not subjective statements.
But here is one, and one that is in no way empirical, even though I have many years of anecdoture to back it up: in the arts, at least, greatness can be said to be measured by the amount of positive feeling, thought, and effort that is outgo vs. the amount of ego gratification the artist receives as income. In other words, there is nothing wrong with having an ego. Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame baseball player, noted for being clutch in the Word Series, once said, 'It ain't bragging if you can back it up.' I agree. False modesty is deceit, and this nation grows fat on deceit, in thousands of daily ways. If I say I'm a great poet, critic, writer, artist, and can back it up, there is no problem. I'm not claiming to look like Brad Pitt nor play baseball like Alex Rodriguez.
But, eventually, although all artists are separate entities from their work (which is why artist bios are so contradictory to the works of many artists), the artist, once dead, becomes the art. All of Beethoven's, Mozart's, Bach's, or Gershwin's music is not referred to as whatever specific Concerto in F Minor (Andante) it might be. No, it's simply Bach. Shakespeare refers not to the man rotting under Avon (and yes, it was not Edward de Vere nor Kit Marlowe), but the great quotable lines of poetry and plays. And, Picasso or Goya or Rembrandt are the paintings first, then the dead dudes who painted them.
All artists want to affect the world, even after they have become their art. It is the closest humanity has yet to come to immortality, and it sure is a hell of alot better than mere mundane existence (despite Woody Allen's dissents). Of course, the effects should be positive. A negative review I write of a bad film or poem or book is a good thing, because it will help people save time, effort, and resources they would otherwise waste, on something not deserving of them because it does not give out more than it sucks in.
As for ego? All artists- good, bad, great- have egos, as do all humans. The real question is does one's ego fit one's talents and accomplishments. Reggie Jackson's did. So do mine. But, for most people the answer is a resounding no, even a laughable no.
But, the work is more important than the creator. If my poems, reviews, stories, novels, memoirs, plays, etc. are going to be read centuries and eons from now, and become part of the communal property that mankind gifts to the other sentient civilizations of the cosmos, is my name really important? Is Sir Gawain And The Green Knight a less important early Anglo poem because its author is anonymous? Of course not. Will my great The Twin Towers Canon or Siamese Reflection be lessened an iota if the name attributed to it is Xia-wan Ho, Lawrence Edelman, or Tanya McNeill, rather than Dan Schneider?
Yes, one reading a bio of me, or my memoirs, may think they see a connection that is illuminated, and may be correct, in a small way (although bios just as often masque and confuse artistic matters as illuminate them). But the great works stand by themselves, divorced from me, perfect children of the sort no other living human being can sire.
So, in short, that is why I do it (specifically and generically).

  Then, as the tide went out, and after a BIG boost to my readership, I ended up my commentary (for now) on this saga, with this final post:


Belated Apology

Time to let the Ebert stuff rest. It was nice as a prop, but I did not win a lottery, I did not have a face-to-face with a divine being, etc.
As a coda, I did receive an email this morning from the initial emailer who started the whole connection between me and Armond White, et al. He basically admitted that he had once harassed me in a dark period in his life but was sorry and genuine in his appreciation of my site now. Fair enough.
He seems to have led a rough life, and caused much of his own problems via addictions. I feel sad to hear of his plight; even sadder that it mirrors so many lonely souls online- from porno addicts to blog addicts to cyberstalkers, etc. But, as he was genuine, and as he was never my worst cyberstalker, no hard feelings, and I wish him success in the future. Time for all involved to move on: him, me, Ebert, White.
As we head into the New Year, at least one person online is doing better. That leaves merely another billion or so to go.

  I was actually glad to hear that another lonely individual was helped in their life (in whatever small way) by my words, and was man enough to apologize. Too often the folks who harass me (and others) online, are merely continuing existing behaviors, or going down a dull path to neurotic obsession. Hereís hoping that Svensland is not the only one of my haters to have turned the proverbial corner.


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