Monday, October 20, 2014

Literary Criticism Matters

Recently I've been contemplating life questions like why write books, why read books, why talk about books, why bother to write posts containing my humble thoughts on books.  As an English degree-holder, I'd like to think that I did not waste my time and (parents') money getting a degree in literature and writing.  Any degree from a good school that teaches critical thinking and communication skills is time well spent, but was the actual literary criticism I spent so much time on meaningful?  Was my undergraduate paper on the color white in a Kate Chopin short story important? Maybe not, but I believe that criticism of literature definitely is.

The difference between a simple judgment and a thoughtful critique were reinforced in my mind by two articles shared with me by my old professor a year ago while discussing criticism and the philosophy thereof.  The articles, one by Daniel Coffeen and one by Sam Anderson, preach the importance of giving back to the art and the artist by engaging in a conversation with the work of art, about how it fits in with other works, what new things it brings to the world, and in what different directions the work could continue its journey.

Criticism requires more than just clicking a “Like” button and moving on, which is what most of us are used to doing.  A quick yay or nay.  In addition, Anderson states that in order for people to take notice of books and book criticism in a world of “Like” buttons, the critic must be an excellent writer and treat criticism as an art in itself.   And Coffeen says that criticism demands "a lending of oneself to the performance of another." Truly art criticism is an art all its own, since the critic and the artist go through the same process: they react to a stimulant, organize the reaction and collect their thoughts, convey these thoughts in creative expression, and prod a reaction out of others, too.

English majors, don't feel bad about your choices as young college students to take on the monstrous task of telling famous writers and poets what worked in their art piece and what didn't.  More realistically, you are telling your professors and classmates these things, but it nevertheless enriches the literary experience of fellow readers and furthers artistic growth in the world.  It matters.

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