Monday March 26, 2007

On 'Critical'

When the whole Carnival Center thing happened, I remember being sneeringly asked something like, “what qualifications do you have to be a critic, anyway?” Well, for the record, I have none (nor do I agree that writing about thing should be left for so-called qualified professionals). But the question has stuck with me, and from time to time I’ve introspected about what I meant by the word ‘critical’ when I named this site. It really breaks down into about four distinct meanings, which I consider to have the following order of relative importance:

  1. There is an almost slang-like sense in which the word was used in the late-80s/early-90s to mean ‘important.’ See also “crucial.” It turns out that this corresponds roughly to the first definition of the word in Webster, but for me the word still has a casual connotation. Also, to the extent that critical=important, it’s writing about important things — or things we pretend are important because they’re fun to argue about — not that the site itself is supposed to be important.
  2. The critical thinking sense. In other words, writing for the sake of the fun of picking apart ideas. Plus: “How can I know what I think until I see what I say,” a quote so good it variously gets ascribed to W.H. Auden, Raymond Carver, Oscar Wilde, Richard Hugo, Winston Churchill(!), Graham Wallas, and E. M. Forster (the latter is apparently correct). I hadn’t gotten to write a whole lot since college, and picking localness as a subject gave me a wide field of topics to work with. (Well, and plus there was no Miami omniblog at the time — had SotP been around, I doubt I’d have started.)
  3. The “writing negatively about things” sense. Because it’s fun to criticize things, even if you couldn’t do it any better yourself. Heck, sometimes it’s important to. I think this is the sense that people get first when they hit the site — note the Metafilter link, and the Destination Blog kiss-off: “not critical enough.” Hmph.
  4. Finally, the “writing judgmentally about cultural stuff” sense. I actually try to tread lightly when I do this, and again, I don’t claim any particular qualifications. But what’s the big deal, anyway? We all go look at, listen to, and do stuff, and it’s only natural to talk about whether we liked it or not, and why. There’s no persuasive reason why this should be left to professionals.


comments powered by Disqus
  1. Pompom    Wed Mar 28, 02:56 PM #  

    I enjoy criticizing the work of doctors. Doesn’t matter whether or not I studied medicine myself—who needs jargon! I mean, I don’t think there’s any persuasive reason we should leave doctoring to professionals. After all, we’ve all got bodies! It’s not like we can’t tell when a body is or is not working. Specialization and training my ass.

  2. alesh    Sat Apr 21, 03:03 PM #  

    Do I criticize doctors?

    Yes: when they perform an operation and leave a pair of forceps inside a patient, when they overcharge me, when I get a second opinion and the first one turned out to be wrong . . . you bet I’d criticize them.