Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Few Thoughts on "Criticism"

I've been mulling over this idea for a while, and it resurfaced recently when one of the professors at Gothic Revival U brought up the tendency of scholars -- especially younger ones, but not solely -- to feel as though they have to tear down other scholars' work, and not just in order for their own to be heard. Lord knows I've been guilty of this myself in the past (especially when it comes to the nebulous, sometimes solipsistic fringes of capital-T Theory land, where I tend to react out of frustration).

But it occurred to me again that it's built into the very way we think about secondary and tertiary analysis in my discipline: we call it Criticism.

It's come to mean and in many ways be synonymous with analysis, but it also seems to carry the connotation, at least emotionally, of being critical, as in a negative, claws-out, destructive manner. We have two meanings for the word critical, of course. We call it "critical thinking" when we mean "analytical", but it may be telling that we now as a culture have to use the word "constructive" to qualify criticism as the helpful kind.

And so I wonder if maybe we can decide, en masse as it were, to change the terminology we use, and maybe in that way, change the way we think about secondary scholarship.

I think I'm going to do my best from now on to use the phrase "Analysis" where others use "Criticism" in my discipline. I think at the very least it'll help me remember that even if I think a piece of scholarship is straight out of Loony-Tunes Land, that I can learn something from it. That doesn't mean there won't be times when I analyze and conclude that an element of an article, or an article in general, isn't helpful to me, but I think it will help me, and hopefully others, to remember that maybe we're not here to be critics. At least I'm not.

I'm here to learn.

So now if you'll pardon me, I have some Literary Analysis to perform ;)

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