Dwight Garner from The New York Times Magazine has some words of affirmation for all the critics out there who are getting tired of being told they are worthless hacks who aren’t good enough to cut it as artists. Garner is speaking as a book critic about lit criticism, but his words apply equally well to the world of movies. Remember, he says, that when an artist, be they Dave Eggers or Kevin Smith, argues against the very notion of criticism, what they are arguing for is “mass intellectual suicide.” Without criticism we become a “zombie nation, where wit and disputation go to die.”
And just what is criticism? Here is Garner’s concept, courtesy of Karl Marx:
“On a perfect day in a perfect world, [Marx] wrote, a happy citizen might ‘hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening’ and, finally and best of all, ‘criticize after dinner,’ perhaps with a bottle of wine on the table. Marx understood that criticism doesn’t mean delivering petty, ill-tempered Simon Cowell-like put-downs. It doesn’t necessarily mean heaping scorn. It means making fine distinctions. It means talking about ideas, aesthetics and morality as if these things matter (and they do). It’s at base an act of love. Our critical faculties are what make us human.”
Those who seek to dismiss or discredit criticism will tell you that its practitioners hate the art form they cover, not to mention its creators, and probably their lives in general. What Garner says — and says quite correctly — is that criticism is actually an act of love. No one spends their days writing about, thinking about, talking about movies or books or television or comics because they hate it. The reason critics endure even as their jobs are yanked out from under them, the reason more and more amateur critics start blogs and websites of their own even when there’s no financial future in it is because they’re passionate about art and they want to share and communicate that passion.
And before you even say it, yes: all critics are communists. You caught us. We pound our keyboards with a hammer and sickle. They’re the only things keeping the zombies at bay.
Read more of “A Critic’s Case For Critics Who Are Actually Critical.”