Gilbert Adair, who died last week, was best known for his writing about film, but I’m pretty sure the first time I encountered him was via his book Myths and Memories, in which he turned his critical attention to all aspects of modern culture, in an Anglicised spin on Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (with a bit of Georges Perec thrown in as well). A later collection, Surfing the Zeitgeist, was a more conventional round-up of essays.
What did stand out in both books was Adair’s firm ideas about what was and wasn’t worthwhile; not just in the sense of rating a specific author or director or composer above another, but in lauding or dismissing entire art forms. Film was top of the pile; but he was bored by theatre; and yet he did like opera – aghast at some hapless bourgeois who had the effrontery to fall asleep during a production of Der Rosenkavalier – while holding popular music in baffled disdain. His answer to the vexed Keats vs Dylan debate was essentially that Keats is better, of course, and if you can’t see that, you’re a bit thick.
I suppose any critical standpoint is pretty much the critic’s gut prejudices hung on a retrospective theoretical framework. But it does help if, like Adair, you can make the whole thing read nicely.