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. -

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Counting my blessings

Any given statement has more than one reason for being made. Some of these reasons might be readily apparent - such as "could you pass the salt" - while others might be more opaque. Most of the time, it's not so much what is said but the fact that it is said at all.

Such as this:

This tells you many things. Such as that I'm soon gonna move (yay!), that I've done some preliminary scouting around the new place, and that I've found no less than seven pizza places near it.

Good news all around, as you can see. Until we encounter these followup statements:

You might think that the first tweet would cover the last one - eight is in fact also not less than seven. Six would be wrong, eight is just one more than advertised. From a position of pure formal logic, they are identical.

Thing is, though, that the statement is not a logical proposition. The words "no less than" do more that simply state a minimum, and the number is more than just an amount. There's more going on here than just a simple statement of fact.

What reason could I have for retracting the seven and restating the eight? Of all the possible things I could have said, I said these things in particular. Why?

There could be all sorts of reasons, and we could speculate endlessly about it. Which is the position we find ourselves in most of the time when pondering why people say what they say. Sometimes, we have nothing but the statement itself to go on, leaving us free and/or forced to invent any number of fanciful reasons for why it was said. Sometimes, these speculations lead us down paths that are less than spectacular.

This time, though, we have me around. And I can tell you what's what. Shed some light on this pizza mystery.

I the first tweet, what I say is this: there are seven pizza places near my new place of residence, AND IT'S GOING TO BE AWESOME!

In the second tweet, what I say is this: IT'S GOING TO BE EVEN MORE AWESOME THAN I THOUGHT!

This has implications. Both for how to read and understand what people are saying, and for my continual well-being.

I predict good things in the future.