Friday, July 07, 2006

Notes toward an essay on criticism

Never out of fear
Always with curiousity
Never with spite or malice
Always trying to make connection
Never with your own agenda
Always with a sense of possibility
Never angry at what you don't yet understand
Always mindful of the past

Looking at Pope's Essay on Criticism, he says "The gen'rous Critick fann'd the Poet's Fire,/ And taught the World, with Reason to Admire,"and why not? Be positive or not at all. Be critical but positive, why not? Criticism can build, or dismantle yes, but even in dismantling, or deconstructing, one can have obliteration in mind, or one can have reconstruction. Why not choose the latter? Why not with a mind to more? Delight & Instruct as they say, rather than piss on and piss off.

There are few nasty reviews that I've found justified. For instance, Kate Taylor's review of Judith Thompson's play Perfect Pie, a long while back now, asked a very good question: Why was this play not developed further? Can we not expect more from a playwright of this caliber? As an admirer of Thompson's, and someone familiar with both her work and play development in Canada at that point, I felt the questions justified. Furthermore the reviewer, it seemed to me, was not merely venting her own bias (ie: she just didn't "like" what Thompson was up to and was never going to "like" it), she was asking for accountability within the greater context of Canadian theater. Much different.

Pope again:
Avoid Extreams; and shun the Fault of such,
Who still are pleas'd too little, or too much.
At ev'ry Trifle scorn to take Offence,
That always shows Great Pride, or Little Sense;
Those Heads as Stomachs are not sure the best
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
The art of reviewing, is after all, an art. So why not give it the rigor we expect of other forms of art? What I come back to again and again is the language, it's usefulness. Too much reviewing, it seems to me, is over-personalized. My students of writing know better than to preface any criticism with "I like" or "I didn't like" this or that work. Who cares what the reviewer likes and doesn't? Of what value is such criticism? What would happen if critics chose to write from a position of wonder instead? From a position of actively discovering or creating themselves, of being part of building a language (perhaps not a common language, I feel the most earnest of those 70s feminists tapping my shoulder just now) of creation... Not of emotion, not of pitting one's own emotional responses against a nation, but from a conscious position, aware of oneself in relation to the whole, teeming, fragmented, complex, certainly not one thing to any one person no matter how tightly one tugs on the leash...

Leave lover's quarrels for the bedroom...Or, as bell hooks might say, if you say that violence is love you don't have any idea what love is. I don't recognize being pulverized as love. This is, in Brossard's terms, "ill-communication." And perhaps Brossard at her strongest conveys this possibility. A rigorous tenderness. But having evoked the tender I must also say that I do not desire a noodley reflexive muscle all wet with batted, blind love-lashes...One might love the text, feel pleasure in it, and still maintain a critical stance. Furthermore, one must be able to understand projects that are not their own, in fact that are far from their own. This is, to my mind, what makes a good poet great. Not operating from a place of fear, needing to criticize anything and everything that does not mirror one's own project, but being able to look on differance with an eye of understanding, appreciation, and above all, for what can be learned and applied to one's own work. Moving forward, always, creating more.

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