What Art Is like, in Constant Reference to the Alice Books
King, Shelley, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE
What Art Is Like, in Constant Reference to the Alice Books. By Miguel Tamen. Harvard University Press. 128pp, Pounds 22.95. ISBN 9780674067066 and 9780674067950 (e-book). Published 25 October 2012
I wanted to love this book. I ought, perhaps, to have loved this book... but I didn't. Despite the assurances on the dust jacket that Miguel Tamen's study is "wonderful", not to mention "highly original, lucid and utterly attractive in style and tone", I spent far too much time reading with gritted teeth. When I say that my happiest moment in exploring What Art Is Like was discovering the "Analytical table of contents", which offers a summary of the key points of the argument, you will have some idea of what my reading experience was like.
The author comments in the introduction that "An important part of this book... consists in suggesting, tirelessly and perhaps tediously, a series of analogies and similes, many of which will only make sense in the context of their initial occurrence" and that "the reader is encouraged to think through such intemperate analogies, and perhaps to think away from them, but also to think about them as they are developed rather than in any gnomic or splendid fragmentary way". You take my point - either you are the kind of whimsical reader who enjoys this playful glancing at important concepts, or like me you are a pedestrian reader who finds such calculated slippery language in the service of clever argument endlessly annoying. Still, perhaps I am just cranky because this book has demonstrated to me that I am not nearly as much fun as a reader as I had imagined myself to be.
To be fair, the basic premise of What Art is Like merits attention: the insistence that "talking about art should be seen as contiguous with talking about many other relevant and important things and. …