A Manual for Critics


Let's try this again...

You're the sort of person who was made fun of in high school because you were over-analytical. One time, someone corrected you on the phone. They called and asked, "Hello, is this Jose?" to which you replied, "This is he," instead of, "This is him." They told you, "You mean, this is him?" when that wasn't at all what you meant, because you understand that English has a subjective case. Growing up, the little Texan kids would constantly correct what you learned in your ESL class. They'd say things like, "It's dubyah, not double-u," when in fact it was double-u. Sometimes the kids would say, "speak English, this is "Murica," when you probably spoke English better than they did, save the accent.

Then you went to college for what you loved most: poetry, literature, film, English, art. What did you find?

You were too snooty. The people around you may have been wrong, even hypocritical, for correcting your English the way they did, but at least they spoke it sincerely. You used English as a sword and a shield, and your high school teachers told you that you were smart because you could analyze poetry, but you freshmen year of college you realized you were an imbecile for not being able to feel poetry. You needed to make words weapons for self-defense, but the only thing you learned how to do with words was defend and attack. Sure, you were good at it, but that justified nothing.


Image result for hillbilly thomistI'm projecting a bit. What I'm driving it as the fundamental problem of the nerd. This is a portion of the population vehemently hated by Alex Jones because he's discovered our plot to take over the world. Nerds are hated for being overly-analytical, for not being able to enjoy, or for enjoying the learning or technique itself rather than enjoying the catharsis. A nerd may have an incredible grasp the English language, and may be capable of appreciating Shakespeare because of it, but the nerd isn't one to cry at Othello's murder of Desdemona. The nerd analyzes it for social commentary or rhetoric or literary technique, but doesn't love it for being a shared human event. This is probably because the nerd spent much of their youth as a social pariah, so sharing in a human event isn't really what they do.

Throughout my undergraduate education, I have learned how to be a better snoot, but also how not to be a snoot. Yes, critics must know the art and the technique, but art and technique isn't much with experience. If critics create a system of principles to judge a piece of art, they are doing nobody a favor. Critics must share in the experience of the art, feel the catharsis, then see how certain principles are made manifest. A critic is both man and machine - that is, a critic shares in experience of the object of their criticism while measuring it by a certain standard.

Snoots and nerds, beware. Play a sport. Kiss a girl. Speak in slang. Just try it. Share in something that means something to normal people, although from a high and objective standpoint it might not mean very much at all. If your analytical mind doesn't benefit from it, your humanity might.


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