Via HarrietBlog, I just came across this comment which was born out of an apparent roundtable on the topic of literary criticism:
Things are somewhat different for a critic, since the critic is necessarily more conscious than other writers of his own will, of what he wants to happen in the world as a result of his writing. As Kazin puts it, “He writes to convince, to argue, to establish his argument.” (Poetry magazine contributor Adam Kirsch)
I think this is an interesting sentiment and I’d be very curious at the different takes on this. By something that at least resembles choice, I’m more or less out of the loop on any current perspectives on the role of criticism outside of this quote. Obviously the term itself is a direct admission of a behavior of judgment and persuasion by its very existence; that is to say, any review has at least an implicit conversaion of what a book is about, what it might seem to set out for itself and whether it succeeds or not. This is inarguable I think, but to me the reviews I do simply don’t have that feel to them, at least internally. They don’t feel like arguments or persuasions, though they are certainly judgments. What they feel like are admissions. I may be on a soapbox but it’s only long enough perhaps to wheat-paste my thoughts on a lightpole, with a sentiment more along the lines of ‘Maybe you’ll all find this interesting, maybe not.’ Then there is a shrug of some kind and a walking away. No doomsday heralding or polemic browbeating, at least not intentionally.
It has been discussed at some point (probably many points) over at Montevidayo that there are complicated and interesting reasons that criticism particularly in poetry seems to be in decline, that ostensibly many poets don’t feel for whatever reason that it’s they’re ‘job’, the thinking seemingly that they are to be reviewed, not do the reviewing themselves. That they don’t want to ‘get their hands dirty’ with it, which speaks volumes about the permeating if not dominant anxieties between ‘academia’ and ‘art’, if we want to put them on opposite sides of a game board. I’ve certainly been witness to this if not a participant in my own experiences in an MFA that often puts me (with force, admittedly) quite literally in a seat next to PhD students, and at least to my observant (if sometimes, to be fair, paranoid) mind an unpleasant atmosphere.
So of course I’ll toss in my $00.02, and put simply: while it is true that I generally find discussions of art, of which poetry is of course a member, pointless and frustrating, even the 1% of the time it feels productive and stimulating is worth seeking out. Even if the vast majority of it to our ears is petty bullshit white noise, that noise is important & one man’s petty bullshit noise is another’s favorite band, so perhaps the real work should be on finding the voice(s) one finds most stimulating and seeking out more of the same. It wouldn’t hurt either to perhaps attempt, like we might do in poetry or music, to imitate and contribute to what we find worthwhile.