12.30.2003

on gabe's critical thought

I'm going to start by agreeing with Gabe's frustration at the distinction between reviewing and criticism. The common distinction is that reviewing is a marketing tool and criticism is an academic pursuit for the informed minority. I think that's a poor distinction. All criticism, of which reviewing is a subset, is an informed discussion about literature. For me, reviewing is informed critical discussion about newly published literature with one caveat - the critic needs to be aware that he is talking to an audience that has not read the text, and still hopes to. That is a limitation, but it's not an excuse for the kind of supremely uncritical reviewers that Gabe rightly bemoans.

As to what sort of critic you might want to be - a Wolfean 'celebratory adventurer' or a practitioner of Clute's 'excessive candour - I think that's a personal matter. I don't think either is wrong, or even mutually exclusive. Why? Because I think that Clute's desire to talk frankly is preceded by a spirit of celebratory adventure, just as Wolfe's adventure is necessarily followed by a degree of gimlet-eyed candour. The driving force here - after a simple love of fine fiction - is a desire to understand and explain. That's what drives me to push through the piles of paper that come my way. I want to understand what's happening in the world around me and in the texts I encounter, and to try to both explain those texts to readers and to celebrate them when they seem excellent to me.

Gabe's other major point, or what I take his point to be about stupid genre walls, is potentially an even more important one. There is a lot of nonsense, both in and outside the genre, about ghettoes and boundaries and such (as per McSweeney's et al), and I couldn't care less. What does concern me, though, is the increasingly large toolkit a reader unfamiliar with genre fiction needs to appreciate it, or is told he needs to appreciate it. I resent the idea that we might be telling a reader who can follow Joyce through the streets of Dublin that the pages of Dhalgren are too hard, or that they are unlikely to appreciate the subtleties of Perdido Street Station. Instead, we should be encouraging them to try, just as we would encourage those still embedded in the monolith of the gernsback continuum to look beyond the crater wall and see what the rest of the world is like. Read clearly, read widely. Think. Those are the keys.

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