How Critical Movements Are Born

One of the parts of Issue 17 of TQC that I’m most excited about is our serialization of JC Hallman’s adapted intro to his anthology of lit crit, The Story About the Story. The moment I read it, I knew this was just the kind of statement on good criticism I’d been looking for, and, collectively, me and the other editors were so hyped about what Chris wrote that we dedicated our editorial to a response.

Chris is currently blogging about his book at Tin House’s website, where he’s expanding on why he wanted to do this anthology:

I have a bad habit of arguing with critic types. Theory-based critics, folks who go to scholarly conferences to make friends with peers who will peer-review them through the 120-pages of published material—or whatever the standard is—that they need for the tenure that will ensure that they spend the rest of their lives attending more scholarly conferences. It’s hopeless, I know—but I can’t resist picking a fight. I want to fight about authorial intent. I want to believe—as Henry James did—that it is the producer with whom we are attempting to communicate when we consider the art of literature. (I’m paraphrasing “The Art of Fiction.”) That is, when you read, you communicate with the writer. But what seems obvious to me and to all people still in possession of their souls is a blind spot to most critics.

So we squabble. I’ve ruined garden parties, been rude to people in their homes. I don’t care. I want to pen people in, get them to acknowledge that even though critics employ a standard, scientific hypothesis-proof model in their writing, no one actually winds up “proving” anything in lit crit. In fact, their “arguments” tend to be unpersuasive because they are theories born of passion that are then translated into analysis as dry as a corpse and as boring as binary code. In other words, it’s dishonest. Why do this? I ask. The answer is always the same: that’s the way it’s done.

Chris offers the term “creative criticism,” which I think encapsulates a trend toward interesting, well-written criticism for the educated layperson that has been ongoing for some years now and has been waiting for someone to slap the title of “school” on it. If you’re intrigued and want to hear more, then definitely do read his post, and the serialization, and our response.

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“That’s the way it’s done.”
This fellow must only know badly-trained academics. He should talk to some well-trained ones. They’ll give him some actual reasons for why they do things the way they do.

I think it’s worth making a distinction between critics and academics; I’m not sure where it would lie though and probably any definition would, by nature, be incomplete.

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All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

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