The Matrix of Criticism

i am struggling greatly right now with the concept of film criticism…an internal battle over whether it is worthy, whether it is worthwhile, whether it is destructive…to critique, even in a positive way, is to tear apart, to unravel, to pick at, to destroy. and i’m referring to serious criticism here, not “this is a good movie”-style reviewing. i mean deep criticism, the academic kind, the intellectual kind, the kind that reveals all of the secrets in a work…the kind i have been rigorously trained to do…does this kind of criticism illuminate, or does it bleach raw? i don’t know. do artists need critics? i don’t know. should the secrets of a work stay secret? i don’t know. does it really take a poet to understand poetry? YES. but now that i have written a novel and am working on a screenplay, and have taken up drawing, the mode-switching is causing some existential trauma. to be a really good critic, to have true insight, is a powerful skill, and a dangerous one. used carelessly or inappropriately it can be enormously destructive. when you have been trained to quickly see beneath the surface of everything–films, books, people–you must also learn to tread lightly. critique with care. not only can you hurt feelings, you can also incite backlashes from those who don’t understand your powers of perception. people don’t want to know what they’re revealing about themselves. they don’t want to know that they can be read so easily. they like to think their secrets are safe, that they are the gatekeepers granting or denying access to their secrets. they don’t want to know that it’s all right there in their face, in their gesture, in their tone, in their choice of words. the well-trained critic can see it all instantly, in strangers and friends alike; the truly gifted critic is living in both the matrix and the real world at the same time, seeing lines of dripping numbers everywhere she looks. but people don’t want to know how little control they have over themselves, how much they reveal to the right reader, viewer, stranger, friend. so the critic, then, must learn to keep secrets as well.

3 Responses to “The Matrix of Criticism”

  1. RGL
    November 25th, 2003 | 11:08 am

    you wrote:
    >> not only can you hurt feelings, you can also incite backlashes from
    those who don’t understand your powers of perception. people don’t want to
    know what they’re revealing about themselves. they don’t want to know that
    they can be read so easily. they like to think their secrets are safe,
    that they are the gatekeepers granting or denying access to their secrets.
    they don’t want to know that it’s all right there in their face, in their
    gesture, in their tone, in their choice of words.<<

    While I’m sure this aptly describes some persons and interactions, I don’t accept these as blanket statements. Two points I’m spefically sceptical of: (1) That people are transparent to themselves, that they are
    cognizant of everything writ in “their gesture, their tone, their face”–which they would have to be in order to set themselves up as protectors of this knowledge. (2) That people will always be hostile to someone who can understand them at a more than superficial level. On the contrary, I think many of us prize someone who can really understand us, to whom we can show, to an uncommon extent, who we really are.

  2. cynthia rockwell
    November 26th, 2003 | 12:09 pm

    somehow your comment shows up more than a dozen times in my discussion board, but not at all on my home page–i only just now stumbled across it by accident…
    i’ll respond in backward order. (2) it’s true that there are a few who are not hostile to someone seeing them on more than a superficial level–i am a tremendous pessimist, though, and have tended to interact mostly with those who think they are closely guarding themselves. and have experienced several fierce backlashes from those who did not want to hear what i was saying, and have had to learn to be very, very, very careful. i have had people tell me that their biggest fear is being seen through. i’ve lost friends because of it. perhaps that says more about the friends i keep, though. (1) i’m not sure why  people would have to be cognizant of what they reveal if they think they’re not revealing it. please explain further. if i am incredibly insecure but cover it up with major braggadocio, i would perhaps not be immediately conscious of the insecurity, but i would be aware of it in flashes, in moments, moments perhaps immediately suppressed, which are all revealed to anyone who cares to look closely enough. and some people would be more aware of what they’re suppressing than others, would have more flashes than others. those who have lashed out at me most fiercely are those who are the most aware of their insecurities. which, perhaps, proves your point. those who have responded well are those who are the least self-aware. they have been the few who do appreciate being “seen through.”
    and i suppose there should be a distinction made here on the “good” things you can see in someone–which are of course always positively received–and the more negative things one can see.

  3. cynthia rockwell
    November 26th, 2003 | 1:31 pm

    >>I think many of us prize someone who can really understand us, to whom we can show, to an uncommon extent, who we really are.
    Also want to add that “many” is, I think, an overstatement here…some do, some don’t (have even heard once, “the last thing I wanted was a woman who actually understood me,”) and others think they want this, then get terrified when they get it.