Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Critic, know thyself

What is lacking in Lista’s polemic is what would make it criticism, namely an autocritical moment. An illuminating literary criticism would—should, to my mind—always relativize itself, openly acknowledging the aesthetic grounds from which it makes its judgements and, as importantly, articulating the aesthetic grounds that orient the practice that it would evaluate. 
I am happy to see this. I don't know Bryan Sentes, but I think it's refreshing to see some intelligent response to a review that isn't just "atta boy," or "he's a genius," or "rock star," or "good read," which is what the conversation has been reduced to of late. And why not grow from criticism of yourself? Critic? What's it all about if not to squarely face our critics and learn from it/them? 

I would love to have a review from someone who understands what Lilburn is doing. Not a gloss. Not a rave. Not a wow, he's the best thing ever....those aren't reviews either and how on earth can those who purport to be in favour of critical rigour fall for that over-the-top praise? It's beyond me. I hear that praise I run for the hills. I don't want to hear praise. I want engagement...I want to learn from an editor, or a review. I want a reviewer to understand the project, illuminate me. 

I'm sure there are ways in which Lilburn, like anyone, could be critiqued in a constructive way, rather than making it be all about how smart the reviewer is...or how he is placing himself in a lineage of reviewers with similar views. I'm sure Lilburn, like all of us, would like a sober read, a bit of acknowledgement, a few hard questions to wrestle with when he returns to the empty page.

(updated 10:38)

1 comment:

Jan Zwicky said...

There was a superb review of Lilburn's _Orphic Politics_, written by Warren Heiti; it's in _The Fiddlehead_ No. 241, Autumn 2009. It's a brilliant example of just the thing you're recommending. And a model of the sort of criticism that I think Sentes is calling for.