Thursday, April 23, 2015

On critique

The word "critique" is widely misunderstood. Or, rather, it is partially understood, and this partial understanding makes up for its incompleteness by underscoring what it does understand to a fault. This understanding is that critique is all about finding faults, flaws and errors in the thing being critiqued.

To be sure, these are important aspects of critique, but they are by no means the only aspects, and by no means the most important.

The most important aspect of critique is the formulation and sharing of an understanding. For the most part, this understanding is with regards to some particular object (a text, a piece of art, a musical work). It is, however, not limited only to the object in and of itself. Critique also extends to the context, genre, politics and whatever else might be important for the conveyance of the understanding.

You might be beginning to suspect something right about now. This something ought to be something along the lines that a good and proper critique takes up a whole lot of space. Which is true, and moreover sort of the point: the clearer and more explicit the critique, the more verbiage it requires. The expression "it goes without saying" does not apply in this case, as the point is to express those things that tend to go without saying.

When someone has read a critique, they should not only understand the object being critiqued. They should also get a picture of why it has been chosen as an object of critique, its place within the genre and its political or cultural implications. The text should convey the understanding required to situate the object within the context is supposed to be understood in. It is not only a reading of an object, it is an objective reading. It is a shared understanding, in the many meanings of the word.

The most important question a good critique should seek to answer is: what can be said that could not be said before this object came into being?

Most things have flaws and errors, and it behooves a critical reader to note these. However, the point of reading is not to perfect grammar, but to think things that would not be thought otherwise. And the point of critique is to point out these new thoughts, situate them among older thoughts, and ponder what it means that we can now think in this new way.

Thus, the kindest thing you can do to your friends is to do a proper critique of them. -

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