Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sue Sinclair "On Criticism"

The Canadian poet Sue Sinclair is this year’s Critic in Residence for CWILA or Canadian Women in the Literary Arts and she has written a compelling essay entitled “A Philosophy of Criticism”. She suggests a critic is someone who invites others to consider a work under review, rather than a person who is simply an arbiter of taste. In the essay, she discusses the need for longer format reviews which quote liberally from any book under consideration so readers can actively engage with the writing, make their own judgements as to whether or not they agree with the critic, and thus not be consigned to the lesser role of spectators.

Here is an excerpt: 

"I see the critic as someone who serves both past readers of the work and its possible future readers, as well as the writer. In a sense the critic also serves the artwork in that she takes up its invitation, engages with it. But it’s the writer I’d like to focus on for a moment. Some people think that the critic is not there to serve the writer in any capacity. But given that the writer, if he reads a review of his work, will likely be more affected by it than anyone else, I think it behooves the reviewer to consider the effect she may have on him. Some think that the writer is best served in just the way the reader is: by the critic’s truthful response. I agree. But there are different ways of telling the truth: it can be done indifferently, it can be done as a slap in the face, or it can be done kindly and with a—perhaps implicit—acknowledgement of the effort that every writer brings to their work. My experience is that the first two approaches can hamper or harm the writer and that the last one can help the writer to rise to the difficult occasion of public criticism. Not everyone thinks that truthfulness and kindness can coexist. Creating the space in which they can coexist is difficult, but I’ve seen it done. And I’m for the challenge. It’s work taking on."

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