Friday, September 05, 2008

Curious Cat Question

For those of you out there who write, what is your stand on criticism, critique, and critical perspective? You know, the whole she-bang?

Obviously, the answers could range from following the canons and talking in academic-speak from day one to "kill all critics!" and "let creative process rule!" But I want to hear it from you people.

Don't worry, answers won't be graded. *winks*

UPDATE: Here are some more interesting replies courtesy of kyu's multiply.


Don said...

basta reader ka you have the right to critique. or even sa film and music. lalo na if you spent money on it.

sharmaine said...

Hey, Mr. Banzai, just my two cents worth. If the criticism is any good, like if I will learn from it, then it's more than welcome. But if walang kwenta, never mind.

Dominique said...

As a writer, one had better be able to learn to "take it."

But the very fact that you put it "out there" -- whether submission or actual publication -- is already an invitation for comment of some sort.

Constructive criticism is best, of course; but echoing Sharmaine, if it's just plain spiteful, one should learn to shrug it off.

Dominique said...

Taking a more academic stance, though, some knowledge of Literary Theory can be helpful for writers. Not essential, especially for those natural talents; but for the rest of us who have to slog through, they can provide useful guideposts as to what makes a work "good" or "bad."

sharmaine said...

Dom, it seems a lot more intelligent when you put it that way.

dodo dayao said...

If we're talking about critic critics . . . criticism is essay writing . . .actually it's writing period. And the finest critics, at least the critics I like or at least pay attention to even if I disagree with them (Lester Bangs, Pauline Kael, Noel Vera, Robert Christgau, Peter Schjeldahl, Andre Bazin, Susan Sontag even Graham Greene,even Jeff vandermeer) are exemplary writers first everything else second. Criticism is nothing if it's not articulate or eloquent.

Plus, criticism is,in many ways, discourse. Literature and cinema and art and hey, even the new Bloc Party album practically demands discourse or it wilts a little. Discourse is essential . . . even if, as someone who puts out product, I live in a sort of fear of them.

The whole idea that critics are spiteful creatures who can't write/paint/film/play music/dance etc. and therefore just lob spitballs at those who can is just a load of . . . pardon the expression . . horsedung. The critic as bad guy, the critic as someone who perpetually disagrees, the critic as someone validated only if you agree with his opinion . . . that is such a sad cliche. ;)

dodo dayao said...

Oh, and canons should be revised every ten years at least. And academic is such a dry, boring writing style. The best critics are the ones who write . . . sexily. :) If you ask me.

And OT but check this out,man, if you have the chance. genius filmmaker . . . and somehow I think you'll be interested. ;)

Sean said...

I live in an optimistic world here: I like to think that anybody can critique a work (because they're the ones reading it, after all), that writers will take into account any good criticism that they receive, and that both writers and critics alike will learn something from the entire experience.

That said, I've found this to be remarkably unrealistic.

For one, most self-professed critics are unprofessional, non-constructive, or just plain old-fashioned. They approach works with little sense of openness or artistic inclination, and demand that we write our stuff to be just like what they see on TV, or what they glimpse on the silver screen, or perhaps even whatever they've written themselves. They will jump in, judge you by existing stereotypes, and withdraw with a smugness that comes from putting people "in their place".

On the flip side of the coin, most self-professed writers are stubborn blocks of stone that couldn't change their style or inclination to save their lives. They will plod along at their own pace, reading our so-called "critiques" with artificial smiles, yet refusing to make any room for other opinions in their fictional worlds. They will delude themselves into thinking that they are constantly furthering themselves, when in reality they're just scribbling the same old stuff over and over again, and hemorrhaging readers by the second.

The irony here is that there is a glimmer of redemption in both sides. There are critiques that offer some good, logical advice; just as there are writers who can take that advice and reach beyond their expected potential. The difficulty, however, lies in separating the diamonds from the dross. There are some genuinely good writers and good critics among the jostling crowds -- it's just a question of how we get them to recognize each other.

banzai cat said...

hehe thanks for the comments folks. I hope we can have an interesting discussion here. I know I gave a somewhat large topic to cover-- from writers' criticism to reader's. But I do think that the topic is important to consider. (Despite how others may feel. *hint!hint!*)

Some question for everyone...

don: what's your basis of your criticism or how you judge a certain work?

sharmaine: for you as a writer, how do you judge whether the criticism is valid for you? in other words, how do you know if it has 'kwenta'?

dom: how would writers who have no academic background be able to write without the said guideposts then? in other words, do you think that the academic perspective is important?

dodo: interesting point you raised there. and yes, the idea of a reviled critic (ala ratatouille) has indeed become a cliche. but yes, i agree with you that criticism is supposed to be discourse and good writing. more important for me is discourse!

my question for you is that: given the bad reputation of criticism and critique, what now? what should be done demolish this stereotype (or reality, as sean puts it)?

sean: as usual, you've put things in perspective already. so where do you fit in what you mentioned?

sharmaine said...

I had no idea there will be a follow up question! I thought this won't be graded. How come I feel like I will receive an F shortly after this?

But anyway,since I am already sucked to this going to school and I am naked nightmare (I'm kidding, okay, I'm kidding), here's my answer: as an audience, whether literary or film or music, I never let criticism influence my opinion of things. I have my own point of view, my own experiences in relation to whatever art I'm engaged in, and somebody else's truth is not always true for me(from some philospher whose name I cannot remember how to spell).

But to be the creator of that art, criticism becomes valid when there is an effort improve it and not just to bring it down. As Dom puts it, being spiteful. In the first place, criticism exists to find the weaknesses in a creation. And not just to say: Ang baduy baduy!

Also, it becomes walang kwenta, if the criticism is only to pull you into their fold. To make you write how they write. Old-fashion, as Sean puts it.

To me, it's all about good intention. You criticize because you want to improve it. And, as the writer,there is nothing more you would want but to improve.

But this is just my 540pm opinion. It might change at 541.

Sean said...

I think that we're all and none of them at the same time, Cat. We're all just as capable of promoting bad advice as we are of pushing good advice, and we're just as capable of taking feedback as much as we are of rejecting it.

The issue here, really, is that we don't know what constitutes good criticism and bad criticism (from both points of view) unless a concrete trade-off is done between the critic and the writer. Despite the great involvement in both areas, I simply see little in the way of actual exchange.

In short -- I do like to think that there are good, intelligent and open-minded critical analyses out there, just as there are writers who will internalize feedback in an attempt to improve. It's just really difficult to find instances where this relationship is actually quantified.

Dominique said...

how would writers who have no academic background be able to write without the said guideposts then? in other words, do you think that the academic perspective is important?

Ideally, the question that the academic perspective should answer is: "What makes this writing good?" Or at the very least, to attempt some criteria at the analysis.

A writer could very well do without any of the criteria and go by "gut" feel alone. But even a naturally gifted writer might not understand why this work of hers succeeds and this other one fails.

Which is a good lead-in to Sean's comment:

we don't know what constitutes good criticism and bad criticism (from both points of view) unless a concrete trade-off is done between the critic and the writer.

This is where literary theory comes in; at best an attempt to identify the mechanisms for the criticism.

Art being what it is, the instruments are never perfect (and some are subject to changing mores).

And since I've already brought it up, for extra credit, I would put forward the most useful theories I've come across:

* Formalism - which basically asks, what makes this work particularly literary? Best applied to poetry, but as I heard someone say (Jimmy Abad, I think, don't know if he was quoting): all good literature applies to poetry.

* Deconstruction - some methods particularly effective for speculative fiction

* Reader response - some methods useful for developing reader-oriented stories (i.e., requiring reader to complete the story)

I don't want to overstate their importance because they're just that: theories. But having even imperfect guideposts is better than none at all.

dodo dayao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dodo dayao said...

My question for you is that: given the bad reputation of criticism and critique, what now? what should be done demolish this stereotype (or reality, as sean puts it)?

My pessimistic answer is that I don't think it can be demolished, least not entirely, because it's so ingrained in so many other stereotypes I don't think the majority is willing to let go - - -and I'm keeping my discussion wholly within the bounds of written criticism of everything , not just literature, but not quite including cuisine as I think that involves a whole new set of disciplines and sensibilities.

Here are a few of those stereotypes that I believe are essentially false, but then that's just me.

Criticism is advice.

Criticism is meant by the critic to improve the work he's writing about.

Criticism is directed at the creator.

Criticism exists primarily to find weaknesses in the work.

Criticism is invalid because it picks on work the writer isn't qualified to do - - paint, write, film,etc.

Critics and creators should have a . . ."relationship".

Critics are evil.

I think I might have a more oversimplified view of the whole critic/artist schism when I view the critic - - -whether he's published or just blogs - - -as an essay-writer or at the very least a journalis and judge him on the merits of how he articulates his theses. It's a very unpopular, and possibly unconventional, view. But I'm sticking with it.

This is what I believe - - -and at least in my heart,know - - - a critic and criticism is.

The critic is a writer.And criticism is prose.

Criticism is journalism.
Criticism is essaywriting.
Criticism is discourse.

Very simple. Maybe too simple. Probably a little too ideal,too romantic. But hey ,why not.

Having said that, and I'm hoping my answer doesn't parse as some cop-out, I've a nagging feeling the stereotypes will thrive and possibly even blossom and I don't think I'll live to see the day when a critic is regarded as nothing more,or less, than a writer.

dodo dayao said...

As a postscript, the finest book/art/cinema/rock critics out there to seem to get by without the kind of validation I mentioned above. Some, in fact,even thrive on the bad reputation. Hell, who doesn't want to be a bad boy writer? :)

banzai cat said...

Arrgh. Sorry for the delay in replying folks. Life got in the way as usual.

sharmaine: Hehe well I think you're putting in a good grade for your answers. WRT your comment, so it depends on the critic's intention for his criticism if it becomes of value? Doesn't the critical saying that the author is dead also apply to the critic's text of criticism? And I'm presuming you don't like the issue of the critic's agenda, given your statement about pulling the writer in. ;-)

sean: That's a good point: we basically don't have outlets wherein criticism can be validated in terms of discourse. That is, if spec fic writers can submit to spec fic markets locally like's Dean's antho, we don't have the same for criticism AND the exchange that will be generated therein. (Obviously, this is the ideal wherein both writer and critic are willing to exchange ideas to begin with.)

dom: Hehe you're the voice of the academic theory at the moment here. But let's raise the issue touched upon above: where does agenda come in in terms of theories of criticism and do you think if this is good or bad? Do you think there can be discourse then also between critic and writer?

dodo: Oh wow. Some of your 'stereotypes' are mind-blowing. For example, a critic tries to improve the work or find weakness? Hehe this discussion is turning into a topic for inuman! Seriously, I do agree with you on what the base of criticism is. However, I think that's only if you firmly believe in the idea that in any writing, the author is dead and the text should stand on its own. (Ohmygawd! A critique on criticism? The mind boggles!)

And yes, a lot of critics do attain a kind of bad boy reputation. But that's the funny thing I've discovered about this: why is criticism regarded as a tool by the mainstream (i.e. canon) to oppress new works when the root of the word is about 'questioning'? Isn't that why critics are held also responsible for bringing undiscovered or under-reported works to light?

Don said...

BC: A lot of elements are involved when i look over a certain work.

Maybe something that sums up my criteria is that the work has to evoke some sense of wonder and I should emerge out of the work with some sort of 'damage' or 'change' even if in the smallest way. I mean, whats the point of spending an amount of time reading/writing/listening to something without gaining something from it?

Of course, this is because of my escapist tendencies. Also, it has to be something new or an old idea/storyline but with a different treatment.

banzai cat said...

That's an interesting schism. Is it 'damage' or 'escapism' for you? I would think they're two essentially different things.