My Blog Week: January 30 to February 5
A Word on the Week
Critical Lapses (part six)
Personal prejudices carry no authority, even if one could be shared “kindly”; even if piping up with an opinion because others are giving theirs, was reason to jeopardize someone’s profession. Which is no joke. Star ratings are averaged to create a score, so careless or meanspirited takes can cost an indie bookseller, or one of our fellow striving writers, a sale. I’ve made the point that we don’t need the hoity-toity voice in the critical dialogue at all, that reviews of good and bad writing alike can address issues substantively…which is to say, when you present an argument derived from evidence, value judgments are no longer material to the discussion.
Any time you use a “being” construct: so and so is unreliable, uninspiring, ungermane…or mundane, jejune, picayune, etc., think of it as a place where a mouse hover would produce a popup box. Inside the box should be your explanation for why you chose this word. Get into the habit of interviewing yourself as you write, and the temptation to be a smartass should vapor off.
“The hero is a moron.”
“The novel’s protagonist appears mentally deficient.”
The truth is, both of these statements—which the alert reader will note are the same statement in different dress—can raise a laugh. The first accesses the shock of bluntness, the factor that allows a comedian to say the f-word onstage and get giggles, for no other reason. The second employs the comic tradition of grandiloquence, a fancy way of saying a plain thing, that causes a tick between the delivery and the uptake. That tick is the essence of sophisticated humor, and sophistication is what the hoitiest and toitiest of critics, those in the John Simon school, are treating their audience to.
It’s shtick, in its way. As we’ve seen in this series, with Rush Limbaugh, or in this past week Joe Rogan’s racist jokes, shock jocks of old and podcasters of the present have won their audiences by being funny. But being funny doesn’t automatically confer the qualities of friendliness and trustworthiness. In the critical voices familiar to our culture, we see two sides of a coin: the down-to-earth guy or gal, who tells it like it is—thought of as a blue-collar demeanor, and the pose of those who want their image to be blue-collar; and the intellectual, armed with vocabulary and allusions, whose approval is rare and flattering.
The second image is a pose, too. I showed earlier how easily Simon’s clever-sounding remarks can be deconstructed to reveal unsupported descriptors (“John Berry’s set design is compelling”—given that compelling means commanding of attention, all the more reason to have described the detail that caught his eye, than toss off a single uncommunicative word), and assertions that can be made to speak for themselves (in all their glory), as in the excerpt I provided of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s science fiction writing. We’ve been taught, and we have the Trump years as our reward, that working class people can’t be questioned or criticized. They are “down” in an unspecified place, and no one can punch there. Whereas, the intellectual is never loved, but his cutting ways with words are feared.
In both cases, it’s no mystery, how we can insist on standards, without imposing unfair judgment.
It’s literally that…
To say your argument is incomplete cannot be “asking too much of the downtrodden”. To say you haven’t supported your contention is not hurtful or unfair. Equally, it doesn’t matter how superciliously you say very little; if the elite debater doesn’t wholly argue his point, he too hasn’t made it.
On Monday, a new Yoharie, Hibbler behind the wheel at a crossroads. On Tuesday, The Sword Decides!, a new chapter, with Ludovic seeking to lay siege to Naples. On Wednesday, the sixteenth episode of the poem-story “Bride to Be”, Wildulfa thinking deeply of Aldebert. And on Thursday, Catastrophe.
Images on my posts often have a link to related information (click first image), sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes in answer to a direct reference. Since people can be leery about links, I include them here: what they are, what sites they point to.
My Blog Week: January 30 to February 5