Self-Organising Criticality

Re. the essays about criticism doing the rounds.

"Positive" vs "negative" criticism is a very limiting frame for it. I like ambiguous criticism a lot, for instance, I like coming away from a piece with a better idea of how I might feel about something, but I don’t ultimately care how the writer ended up feeling about it.

Maybe the value of criticism - beyond entertainment, nice sentences, etc. - is in transferable information about an experience, and something as flat and final as “an opinion” might be a useful part of that, or it might not.

That Eggers piece is one of the worst things I’ve ever read, and as such had a huge influence on me. It’s true, though, that I find it more useful to read someone eloquently explain why a thing might be good than why it might not be. But it depends on the thing. At heart I’m a contrarian. I start hearing a little voice going “come on, what’s the real story?”. If something is praised everywhere I want to read the doubters. If something is casually damned I want to hear from the fans. Honest doubters and honest fans, not some #slatepitches linkbait - though sometimes you can’t tell the difference.

A property of the social web is that these options and alternatives emerge from it with less self-consciousness than they might in the professional sector. I like that.

I like criticism as a vehicle for ideas about things - this isn’t the same as centering criticism on the writer but it’s not centering it on the artist either: I respect critics who specialise in piecing together artistic development, but it’s not my thing as a reader. The idea doesn’t have to be central to the piece - it could be half a phrase somewhere that turns out to be a hidden door.

I don’t expect critics to explain everything.

Anyway that’s some thoughts I had reading those essays and the responses to them. 


  1. ghostoutfit reblogged this from judyxberman and added:
    Yes! Though a bit tangential, this is what Susan Sontag seems to mean in “Against Interpretation” when she says that we...
  2. leftmyheartinthecapitalwasteland reblogged this from tomewing
  3. lugjabask reblogged this from judyxberman
  4. judyxberman reblogged this from tomewing and added:
    Well said. I rarely think about why I find a book or painting or album or film good as much as what intrigues me about...
  5. danilobortoli reblogged this from thirtydollarproject and added:
  6. thirtydollarproject reblogged this from tomewing and added:
    A well-reasoned approach to criticism from one of my favorite critics.
  7. tomewing posted this