Do Twitter and Facebook spell the end of the critic?
Criticism of any kind is increasingly unwelcome at the digital-age paper. Consider a controversy that flared up in Canada last year. Arthur Kaptainis, who had long been the critic of the Montreal Gazette and more recently had been writing freelance for the National Post, reviewed a Canadian Opera Company production of Rossini’s “Maometto II.” The Canadian Opera asked for a couple of corrections, whereupon the Post took the bizarre step of removing the review from its Web site. Amid the resulting hubbub, a Post arts editor was quoted in an e-mail: “I really hate running reviews for performing arts. They simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.” The same mantra is heard at culture sections across America. Reviews don’t catch eyeballs. They don’t “move the needle.”
The logic seems irrefutable. Why publish articles that almost nobody wants? On closer examination, some shaky assumptions underlie these hard-nosed generalizations. First, digital data, in the form of counting clicks and hits, give an incomplete picture of reading habits. Those who subscribe to the print edition are discounted—and they tend to be older people, who are also more likely to follow the performing arts. A colleague wrote to me, “The four thousand people reading your theatre critics might be extremely loyal subscribers who press the paper on others. People in power often speak of ‘engagement’ and ‘valued readers,’ yet they still remain in thrall of the big click numbers—because of advertising, mostly.”
The New Yorker
Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper
Who would you put in a museum of the best American writers? Hemingway? Kerouac? Bukowski? Note those are all white guys. The author visits a new museum devoted to writers to ponder the question of “who (and what) deserves to be in America’s first museum dedicated to writers?”
Walking through Chicago’s new American Writers Museum a week before it opened to the public, I felt like a cross between that eleven-year-old (wide-eyed, thirstily trying to absorb the canon, inspired by history) and that twenty-one-year-old (tallying up gender and race and queerness on the 100-author “American Voices” wall of fame and doing some quick math).
The museum’s creators faced an impossible task, the same one undertaken perennially by anthologists and English professors: How can we represent four hundred years of American literary history in a way that doesn’t reinforce the unfortunate hierarchies of those four hundred years?
Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper
I recently read this excerpt from “Truth and Beauty” by Robert Flynn in Trinity University Press’ Art at Our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers and Artists.
That was when I first got the notion of being a writer. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We didn’t go in much for writing at the country school I attended. We studied penmanship. But we knew what a writer was. A writer was somebody who was dead. And if he was any good he had been dead a long time. If he was real good, people killed him. They killed him with hemlock. Hemlock was the Greek word for Freshman Composition.
The country school I attended was closed, and we were bused to Chillicothe. Chillicothe, Texas is small. Chillicothe is so small there’s only one Baptist Church. Chillicothe is so small you have to go to Quanah to have a coincidence. For a good coincidence, you have to go to Vernon. Chillicothe was fairly bursting with truth and beauty, and my teacher encouraged me to write something that had an epiphany. For an epiphany, you had to go all the way to Wichita Falls.
Read the full excerpt at Robert Flynn’s website
Normally, I don’t recommend any needull with lists. But, I like Farnam Street and what they suggest on effective ways to take notes while reading makes sense to me. But, for this you will have to have your own copy of the book 🙂
There are three steps to effectively taking notes while reading:
At the end of each chapter write a few bullet points that summarize what you’ve read and make it personal if you can — that is, apply it to something in your life. Also note any unanswered questions. When you’re done the book, put it down for a week.
Pick up the book again and go through all your notes. Most of these will be garbage but there will be lots you want to remember. Write the good stuff on the inside cover of the book along with a page number.
Copy out the excerpts by hand or take a picture of them to pop into Evernote. Tag accordingly.
The complete article
Shane Parrish — Farnam Street
I could relate to this poem. In fact anyone can, who reads about wars and deaths sitting in the comforts of his house over tea/ coffee. An excerpt below,
Do not believe me were I to talk to you of war, because when I spoke of blood, I was drinking coffee, when I spoke of graves, I was picking yellow daisies in Marj Ibn Amer, when I described the murderers, I was listening to my friends’ giggles, and when I wrote about a burnt theatre in Aleppo, I was standing before you in an air-conditioned one.
The complete poem
Asmaa Azaizeh — Asymptote
A long overdue recommendation on literature and poetry. There is a certain purity in poetry which is missing in articles on everyday world.
Another argument against courting danger is that danger doesn’t guarantee an ability to make art. Plenty of people are exposed to very real danger every day, and they aren’t making art out of it—that would require the luxury of time and leisure unavailable to those trying to escape genocide or to survive famine—to name but two of the many ongoing realities in this world. Danger can literally destroy the ability to make art. Much has been written about the relationship between art and mental illness, especially when it comes to poetry, since there have been a fair number of poets who have produced lasting work while wrestling with clinical depression. But so many of those poets also committed suicide eventually. One truth about depression is that it can be fatal for the sufferer to spend extended time with the “demons” that attend it—far from being conducive to the making of art, it can lead to a despair so overwhelming that suicide seems the only right response. Or, if it doesn’t lead to suicide, it can lead to a crippling stasis, an inability to move forward, mentally, and often physically. It’s not uncommon to have poetry students who suffer from depression. And every few years I’ll have a student who wonders if staying on meds is a good idea—do the drugs dull the mind to the harder realities of life, and if we distance ourselves from those realities, aren’t we avoiding the hard wrestling from which art arises? For some people, yes—and those people aren’t likely trying to be poets, which seems a reasonable enough choice in life. For other people, I like to think that medication might provide a certain stability within which reflecting on life’s difficulties can become not only possible but perhaps useful. We don’t have to be mauled by a lion in order to consider its potential for violence, the strange beauty of pure instinct, its power to stop us, sometimes, from looking away . .
The complete article
Carl Phillips — Work in Progress