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  • Why Criticism Matters

    Fri, 07 Jan 2011 10:50

    blog imageWhat we can say, for sure, is that sustained exposure to the Internet is changing the way many readers process the written word.
    That's a quote from a recent New York Times article by Sam Anderson. We are reading more and more but the way we read, process and respond to information is changing. Some people think this is turning us into hairy trolls with the attention span of an impatient gnat but I agree with Anderson and think this is a wonderful opportunity for more knowledge, experience and contemplation.

    How we share these experiences is growing exponentially. You may have noticed a Twitter Widget just to the right of this blog, a constant distraction/helpful tool to constantly monitor people's occasionally random, sometimes apposite thoughts. We have the comments on these blogs and you can leave your thoughts on any of the books we have on the site.

    There is, however, a caveat. Among all this chatter, all this free thought there comes responsibility, the 'duty' to try to write well, to make yourself heard. As Anderson says,

    To function as an evangelist, the critic needs, above all else, to write well. A badly written book review is worse than a badly written political speech or greeting card or poem; a badly written review is self-canceling, like a barber with a terrible haircut. The best way to establish critical authority is to demonstrate, in your own prose, a vitality at least equivalent to that of the book you're writing about. There are other ways to do it, but that's the most immediately convincing.

    Of course, most of us are not gifted writers but we can at least stop for a second and think carefully about what we want to say. It is easy to say whether you 'like' something or not but much harder to engage and enrich the conversation between the book, you the reader and any potential readers to follow.

    The critic's job is to help amplify that conversation. We make the whispered parts of it audible; we translate the coded parts into everyday language. But critics also participate actively in that conversation. We put authors who might never have spoken in touch with each other, thereby redefining both. We add our own idiosyncratic life experiences and opinions and modes of expression - and in doing so, fundamentally change the texts themselves.

    So, tweet, comment and post away and remember, you may think those tweets, comments and posts are instantly disposable but they are constantly changing the conversation and in some dark recess of the internet they live on, possibly forever...

    ps Get started with the Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory!

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