Critique, critique, we’ve all too much of critique. All is critique, from the highest to the lowest of the chattering classes, immersed in the comforts of their academic cradles, ensconced in their media settings like jewels upon the papal crown of the cathedral, or set lowly, a kind of prole feed, in their coddswallop twitter-quipping, substituting volume for quantity, in the hopes of someday ascending to the titanic Atlantic flows of erudtion. All we’ve left to us is critique, an echo of an echo of an echo of an echo of a kernel of a smidgeon of content, of form, of matter, of substance, of glorious, glorious reality glinting through it all, to be snuffed out and smothered before the might of our critical apparatus. Let there be no criticism in these pages, but that it might be a magnifier of the worthy!
A Moral Physician’s Diagnosis
In the diagnosis of a corruption, or a consumption of the soul of a nation, or rather, of an empire, one must be circumspect. However, as this is merely the column of an editor, rather than the voluminous work of an academic struggling to make his name by critique among other similarly nameless academics, whose works mold away in the university archives, I shall endeavor not to dwell long in the despised mode.
Matthew Arnold once wrote this, now comically mistaken, definition of the critical effort: “the endeavor, in all branches of knowledge, theology, philosophy, history, art, science, to see the object as in itself it really is.” Oh that Arnold’s idealism might in fact be the way that world worked! We might all be better off. But we are not better off, and thus may conclude that Arnold’s finery is that of a fooled King, set to the sword by those exploitative suitors of his usurping daughters. Arnold, our Lear, your daughters of Criticism set you to the sword, and your lovely of Truth is set to death alongside you! Anyone who has sat their introduction to literary criticism course knows that the business of critics is nonsense, chattering, or if one is more charitable, novelty. For it is novelty that makes ones name among the chattering classes, novelty that confers status, novelty and fealty to the baser instincts, and, when necessary, to the worldly powers.
Now, we shan’t be too hard on Arnold, for he recognized where his powers lay, and dedicated himself to their perfection, or as close as he could get. However, Arnold’s idealism, rather his self justification, his attempt to recast the critical task as a creative task, as “an intellectual situation of which the creative power can profitably avail itself,” is the one which sets the dominoes to fall, for in doing so it sets up the those engaged in the critical effort to fall into the vices of those in the creative effort, and in doing so fail to check those vices of those in the creative effort. I shall explain.
Novelty is the vice of the creative, it is novelty, a new expression of spirit, which drives him, and drives him, when he falls degenerate, to lie. Novelty wreaks havoc upon him until he creates something new, gives up the task, or dies. For why create that which shall only be eclipsed? Why bother? Art is, for better or worse, a winner take all pursuit. Anything between acclaim and oblivion is not the domain of art, but of craft, and perhaps craft is preferable for most, for it gives man a certain robustness and dignity. Nevertheless, we don’t give a damn about craft, so let us return to art. The quest for novelty drives the artist to distort, to invert, to lie, and this lie is that which must be found out, checked, expunged, and those guilty, removed. Who’s job is this? The artist? Yes, the artist has the responsibility to always seek the Absolute in his work, but what happens when he fails? Well, then, it is quite clear that someone should criticize his work and expose his failures. Might this be a job for that despised class known as the critics? Well, it would certainly seem so, now wouldn’t it?
So what happens when the critics believe themselves to be creatives? Well they exchange stolidness, reliability, and good sense for novelty. Rather than glory in old truths, they glory in new lies, and this, this is the failure. The critic glories in novelty, praises novelty over truth, progression even of regression, entropy rather than crystallization. Pretending at being an artist, he leaves the artist unchecked, and all goes mad, madness into oblivion. So now we are in the mad situation of artists extolling the tried and true as their critics seek novelty, which is how you got this magazine dear reader, for it’s editors are disgruntled artists, wondering at the inversion of order, not dissimilar from the disenchanted man wishing his wife would be womanly, or the overwrought woman wishing her husband would be a man.
A Call for Critics
Anyway, I said I did not wish to linger in the critical mode, and so I shall not. This entire column has been a thinly veiled call for actual critics to come in and check the madness. We accept critical submissions as well as creative ones, so do submit dear reader, if you’ve the stuff for it.
Editor in Chief,
Akshay C. Gollapalli