A Critic’s Manifesto

I was the kind of kid who used to draft manifestos in my head, playing around with forceful language and declarative statements, enjoying the kind of conviction they always granted in their moment of creation. While this in part speaks to a childhood which combined serious book wormish tendencies with parents who raised me within an oppositional political framework, I think it also reflects the fact that manifestos tend to sound a register well suited to adolescent ears. At their best they demonstrate a powerful voice, often in the face of disempowering and hostile realities. At their worst they allow for pompous grandiosity to masquerade as political subversiveness.

And yet I still find myself drawn to their seductive power. I leave it up to you to decide where the following manifesto falls. It’s been banging around in the back of my head for a while and I thought I would let it make it’s way out, putting an end to all the distracting mental clanking.

[To read a better crafted and more focused tract that operates on a parallel plane, check out this essay by my good friend and mighty movie maestro Mr. Harry Lime.]

A Critic’s Manifesto

  1. As a critic, I am the lowest of the low, a bottom-feeder, one who lives off of cultural detritus. I reject the ease with which specialized cultural knowledge can be traded for the illusion of an objective, superior place from which to judge. No matter how well crafted my critique, the act of criticism is never as important as the act of creation. Even the most rudimentarily crafted film or amateurishly played tune holds an advantage over me when it contributes something new (not necessarily completely original) to the world. This is a wonderful place from which to dig the best culture has to produce. A termite’s-eye-view is the only way to fly.
  2. That said, neither I nor the work exist in a vacuum. It is my duty to open up as many new contexts and roads into what I write about, rather than excise it from the worlds it emerges from. In writing about the work I ultimately write only about my own interpretation of the work and so it is also my duty to provide my own contexts, with their inherent strengths and limitations (pushing them as far as I can while I go). I resist the temptation to confuse a familiarity with cultural detritus with the ability to speak with all the voices of the subaltern, bottom dwellers, or whatever other groups produce that which I rummage through obsessively.
  3. Works that offer me no joy offer very little worth writing about. In an over-mediated world, we are all less in need of people who revel in demonstrating why something is irredeemably worthless or who sharpen their wits on easy marks.  If I write about something it is because I see in it something to which it is worth devoting my attention and the reader’s attention. This is not a mandate to only lavishly praise, but instead a mandate to write in aid of that which deserves and needs writing about.
  4. Enough with claiming a right to apolitical snarkiness that serves as a smoke screen from behind which I can periodically hurl weak political platitudes sans argument (I’m looking at you just about every reviewer of Che). The act of criticism is A political act, not an apolitical one. And god bless political acts cuz they’re all we got!

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