February 15th, 2013 / 4:16 pm
Craft Notes

How To Be A Critic (pt. 2)

Young Critic Engaging with John Lavery’s
“Portrait of Anna Pavlova” (1911)

In Part One of this series, I introduced a network of ideas aimed at rethinking our approach to criticism by foregrounding observation over interpretation, and participation over judgment, by asking what a text does rather than what it means. This time, I’ll expand on those ideas.

The young girl in the picture above demonstrates an angle on the critical practice I proposed. She also brings to mind what Nietzsche said about the ideal reader in Ecco Homo, “When I try to picture the character of a perfect reader I always imagine a monster of courage and curiosity as well as of suppleness, cunning and prudence—in short a born adventurer and explorer.”

The critic as monster, performer, participant, adventurer, explorer.

“For me,” wrote Elaine De Kooning, “the most important thing about the words ‘painting’ and ‘drawing’ is that they end in ing. A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun, an event first and only secondarily an image.”

I see no reason why “writing” should fail to benefit from a similar approach.

To rewrite De Kooning, then: a book to me is primarily a verb, not a noun, an event first and only secondarily an object.

Brandon Shimoda demonstrates a take on this approach in his recent essay on John Ashbery’s The Double Dream of Spring, where he reveals the process of his relationship with the text. He writes, “What I was actually falling in love with was mystery, danger, unknowing.” What we get in place of a value judgment about the book, or in place of an attempt to decipher the book, is a description of how the text becomes an active node in the circuit of Shimoda’s life. Less a static thing, more an experience.

Trish Harnetiaux offers a similar but distinct approach in her recent contribution to Delirious Hem’s Chick Flix series curated by Jennifer L. Knox, with her piece “WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING we accidentally watched a Sandra Bullock movie twice in a row (based on the memory of a true story).” Written in the form of a play, this highly imaginative engagement with Jon Turteltaub’s 1995 Sandra Bullock vehicle illustrates the event-like quality of a text: through the dialogue of the characters the film becomes less a noun, less a thing, and more a verb, more a site of and for action. Notice the way Harnetiaux’s characters interact with the text and open it up by connecting it to other films and memories in a way that expands and contributes to the text.

This line of thinking (text as verb more than noun) reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s work. Oh how she hated nouns. Have you seen Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Gertrude Stein’s Punctuation From Gertrude Stein on Punctuation“?



By erasing the words and leaving the punctuation marks, Goldsmith foregrounds the presence of constellations in her work. “Stars stuck all over…,” as Sylvia Plath said. “The stars he unhooked from the night…” as Apollinaire said. Little markings, little landmines, Morse code.

Goldsmith comments on the text by observing and creating.

The critic as participant, explorer, performer.

For guidance on how one might instantiate this practice, consider the dynamic illustrated in this example of an acting exercise called “The Mirror”:

Here, the text corresponds to the lead actor, and the critic corresponds to the actor mirroring the leader. The importance of this relationship as an example of critical practice aligns with their shared privileging of close observation, engagement, movement, adjustment, openness, suppleness, and adventurousness. Notice that the actor mirroring the leader does not interpret the movements. Instead, the mirroring actor observes and follows without judgement the movement of the lead actor. (The young critic at the top of this post performs the mirror exercise with Lavery’s painting.)

Avoiding interpretation is paramount to this process, because interpretation is the act of judgment, the act of reduction more than expansion. To confuse observation with interpretation is to confuse the direction of traffic: to drive on the left-hand side of the road rather than the right-hand side of the road.

Observation and explanation, which are the practices I have encouraged (identifying what the text is doing and elaborating on how the text is doing it), are antonymous with interpretation. To clarify their distinction, I defer to Franco Moretti, who puts it nicely:

To be clear, I take the distinction between interpretation and explanation from Ricoeur [and partly from Elster]: interpretation turns the words/actions in the text into a new text created by the interpreter [What Horatio really means in the play is…]; explanation establishes a relationship between the words in the text and an already existing external force or structure [for, respectively, causal or functional explanations]. Whence, usually, a greater sense of “solidity” conveyed by explanations over interpretations.

Instead of blocking a text with interpretation, it can be opened by observation, description, and participation. Instead of transforming a text into another text with interpretation, the critic can allow the original text to remain itself and then create a companion text for it.

Recall, for example, the engaging criticism created by readers of Zachary German’s Eat When You Feel Sad, which called itself “promotion,” but in fact serves as the kind of criticism I am suggesting, akin to the young girl’s criticism of Lavery’s painting above. Here are a few examples, from Blake Butler, Megan Boyle, Tao Lin, and Adam Robinson:

Notice how they interact with the text, how they avoid interpretation, and resist a desire to find meaning. Instead, they simply participate.

To put it another way, Jean-Luc Godard, a film critic before he was ever a filmmaker, once said that the only valid way to criticize a movie was to make one of your own.

This form of criticism is creative and affirmative, more than destructive and negative. It resists value judgment. It makes the text bigger, more than making the text smaller. It does not rewrite the text, but instead produces a companion for the text. It helps to expand the text, more than reduce the text, which brings to mind this comment filmmaker Steven Soderbergh made recently in an interview Ken Baumann brought to my attention. He said:

“I’m always curious to hear how something was made—though I have no interest in why an artist did something, or what his work means. Like with Jackson Pollock: I’m always interested in what kind of paint and canvas he used, I just don’t want to know what he meant. You’re supposed to expand your mind to fit the art, you’re not supposed to chop the art down to fit your mind.”

Which reminds me…have you read Nick Demske’s review of Joyelle McSweeney’s book, Percussion Grenade over at Phoebe? He engages with her book of poetry by writing a poem. The way Goldsmith engages with Stein’s text by creating its doppelgänger. The way Butler, Lin, Boyle, and Robinson engage with German’s book by making a video. The way the young girl engages with the Lavery painting by performing a dance. The way Shimoda engages with Ashbery by writing a personal narrative. The way Harnetiaux engages with While You Were Sleeping by writing a play.

The idea, as Soderbergh reminds us, is to increase more than diminish, to intensify, to proliferate, to expand.


  1. Michael Fischer

      What’s your obsession with always misrepresenting “interpretation” so you can create a red herring suggesting that interpretation can’t be all the positive things you outline in this post? A text can be interpreted through “observation, description, and
      participation.” What you do here—and elsewhere—is blatantly lie about the complex definition of interpretation so you can argue against it. I find this a bit scary, considering your obvious intelligence.

  2. Nick Sturm

      “CHRIS, WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS LYING?” is the title of the sandwich I made as a critical response to this comment.

  3. HolidayInnExpress

      HTMLGiant deleting comments left and right these days that aren’t even over the line or abusive. What a joke.

  4. deadgod

      The kid seems inspired — not dancing against gravity–which is the spirit of gravity–but among it.

      Each gesture is nevertheless decided — not thumbs-up/thumbs-down, but judgement for these-words-in-this-order. That is (Nietzschean) freedom: not ‘from’, but ‘for’.

      There are simplistic, reductive judgements, but the kid dancing seems to me to be weighing weight freely from the judgement that all judgement is reduction.

      The kid doesn’t seem to be calculating in that reactive way. Her agenda seems more active.

      Nietzsche’s “perfect reader” is not reluctant, on the vengeful ground of “respect”, to interpret. Respect, for that reader, would consist of the “courage” to interact as oneself and not (fictively) as a notional recording device would do.

      Observation and participation remain interpretative. They remain vulnerable also to being called purified of interpretation.

      Nouns noun; objects world.

      The “grammatical prejudice” Nietzsche criticizes is not for nouns over verbs, but rather, of distinguishing nouns from verbs.

      “Participate, explore, perform.” How not? The most simplistic reduction does these–perhaps well.

      A human mirror “follows” through perception, and perception is not a machine cleansed of its ghost. Perception chooses, or happens in a framework of choice, as the actor has chosen to be like a mirror.

      Imposition of anticipatory forestructure is not avoided simply by choosing to copy as closely as possible. Avoiding imposition is a value; its success, to be evaluated.

      Interpretation can be interpreted–understood–reductively as more or less “reductive”.

      Observation and explanation might be presented as lacks of imposition, purely passive reactions.

      This purity, moralized as “respect”, is an attempt to get revenge against the artist by denying one’s stake at risk in interacting with the artist.

      Interpreting oneself as ‘not interpreting’: why not?

      “A new text created by the interpreter.” -> bad.

      “To criticize a film by making one of one’s own.” -> good.


      The child in front of the painting is not letting her participation with its meaning–her co-creation of its meaning–be limited by or to any knowledge of its painter.

      Why should the critic of criticism limit meaning to intention?

      Increase, intensify, proliferate, expand: all values, each imposed on the work (which suffices uninterpreted without any of those four), each a cutting edge.

  5. HolidayInnExpress

      ^Delete this comment now! How dare you disagree with someone’s ideas! The writers for this blog are not adult enough to handle criticism of their ideas, so they hide behind the protection of some cowardly, faceless “moderator” who deletes comments without offering an explanation.

  6. HolidayInnExpress

      Here is the comment I posted earlier that was deleted. It’s really terrible, mean stuff:

      “What’s your obsession with always misrepresenting “interpretation” so you can create a red herring suggesting that interpretation can’t be all the positive things you outline in this post? A text can be interpreted through “observation, description, and
      participation.” What you do here—and elsewhere—is blatantly lie about the complex definition of interpretation so you can argue against it. I find this a bit scary, considering your obvious intelligence.”

  7. Richard Grayson

      Le malade n’est pas à plaindre qui a la guarison en sa manche.

  8. Don

      “To put it another way, Jean-Luc Godard, a film critic before he was ever
      a filmmaker, once said that the only valid way to criticize a movie was
      to make one of your own.”

      This seems obviously untrue to me and also contradicts what you’re arguing for. If you want to do away with interpretation and judgement, how can you endorse a view that proposes “the only valid way to criticize”? If there is only one valid way, that means the other ways are invalid… which sounds like judgement and interpretation..?

  9. Don

      It’s hard to agree or disagree with you because your theory of non-interpretation is not internally consistent. But maybe lack of logical consistency is a virtue for you?

  10. Guest

      It absolves him from any sort of ethical responsibility. Historically, it’s not a unique position for critics like Higgs who are not interested in genuine self-interrogation. It’s easy and safe to be an aesthete with blinders on 24/7. A real critic embraces the complex tension between aesthetic pleasure and meaning; a real critic doesn’t have a one-track mind. It’s the same reason why he never responds to legit criticisms of his ideas and only responds to dick sucking.

  11. Don

      I think this is a horrible line of argument. How does the race/gender ad hominem help us here? If a black woman wrote the same thing Chris wrote above, would you suddenly agree with it? I don’t think Chris is incoherent because he happens to be a man. That’s senseless. Historically, most critics (of all genders and races) make judgements and arguments that they defend with evidence. Higgs makes judgements and arguments too, just without consistency or evidence… so I guess he mostly makes assertions, not arguments. That isn’t a ‘white thing’, as far as I can tell. It’s just a sloppy thinking thing.

      I also don’t think this is a particularly ethical issue… incoherent writing about how one does or does not read literature does not have much ethical weight. I think he doesn’t respond to legit criticisms of his ideas because arguing about ideas goes against his ethos of non-interpretation and because not responding is easier.

  12. Don

      a non-interpretative poem response

      the pistol pissed words
      in florida
      commit precious assertions
      halfway up the tree to paris
      theoretically financed
      postmodern postmortem
      “no judgement, man”
      as theory.

  13. HolidayInnExpress

      I edited my post, not because there isn’t merit in that argument, but because there is a danger of essentialism in such a short, informal space. We agree on most matters; I’ve read your posts here in the past.

      But there is certainly a historical context here of privileged critics advocating for a supposedly “aesthetics-only” criticism in order to avoid the text implicating their privilege (re: new criticism). This doesn’t mean, of course, that minorities can’t also hold similar positions.

  14. Matt Rowan

      Looks like somebody just got down marks for agreeing with the elephant in the room. Why is Chris Higgs such a liar? Lying freely and academically?

  15. A D Jameson

      Chris, you’re becoming like the anti-Susan Sontag :)

  16. Guest

      Well, let’s see–probably because he argues against interpretation while offering a interpretation of his own at the expense of other other possible ways to interpret. That doesn’t strike you as disingenuous?

      Even the title of the article undercuts his argument–“How to be a Critic,” as if his way is the only way.

      Since we’re on the topic of definitions, perhaps you should stop kissing asses for a second and look up “hypocrite.”

  17. mimi
  18. A D Jameson

      I don’t think of Chris as a liar. I think he’s earnest in his writing, and admirably passionate. But he’s also incoherent and self-contradictory, and possibly disingenuous. As Guest notes, “How to Be a Critic” is difficult to reconcile with “Do whatever you want! Any reaction is OK!” Also, it’s curious how any reaction is OK—except interpretation, which is straight out. Why? Because it’s judgmental and reduces the potential responses.

      But if any response is OK, then interpretation (however one defines it) should also be OK. But if interpretation is not OK, then Chris can’t be serious when he says that any response is OK, and that critics should refrain from making judgment.

      (To put it more succinctly, “the way to be a critic is to not make judgments” is incoherent.)

      I do think Chris is being somewhat disingenuous (which I still wouldn’t call lying), because I don’t think he really believes in that non-judgmental thing. From what I can tell from his writing, he believes that there is in fact a right way to respond to artworks, which is the way he’s laying out here (non-interpretive response). In other words, his criticism is just as “obstructive” as he perceives interpretation to be, but for some reason he tries to defend his stance by presenting it as non-judgmental. I think that’s a shame, because the contradiction severely weakens his criticism. But this is also a complicated issue. Even the great John Cage was incoherent along similar lines.

      Me, I’m all for non-judgmental responses, and I’m also all for interpretation, but I think it important that the two not be confused or equated. To explain my reasoning would take a very long post :)
      I also suspect that Chris is all for interpretation, too—at least, a certain kind of interpretation—but he’s also conflating a few different kinds of interpretation in these posts. (He’s also confusing causes with meanings, which to be fair is a common mistake in the arts—Steven Soderbergh makes it in that quote.)

      I think that Chris would do well to try defining “interpretation” more carefully. For instance, he may think he means the same thing by it that, say, Susan Sontag did, but I think it’s clear he does not.

      But I also think that Chris has painted himself into a very difficult (and ultimately untenable) position. I have to laugh every time I see him refer to some other text to explain why he doesn’t think that meaning matters, or that interpretation should be done—like when he refers to the Franco Moretti excerpt above. Chris could instead just point to a tree to support his position, or jump up and down, or try to eat a rock. Because either texts mean something and that matters, or they don’t mean anything, and there’s no point in referring to one to better explain what one means. One can’t have it both ways. Well, it’s a sticky wicket, to be sure.


  19. Kent Johnson

      Sorry for interrupting the ad hominem flow, but what gives with all the bashing on Chris Higgs hereabouts? I’ve been noticing it for some time, and I don’t at all get it. I don’t recall seeing anything he’s posted at HTML that should precipitate such animus. Did he steal some credit cards and go shopping on some of you, or something like that? Or is it a more banal something– like discontent that his intelligent and minimal- bullshit posts seem to generate more views and commentary than most others?

  20. Guest

      You don’t get it because you haven’t paid enough attention. He’ll post provocative ideas intended to spark conversation and completely dismiss legitimate criticism of those ideas in the comments section.

  21. HolidayInnExpress

      AD, the logical holes in his arguments are well-founded. They simply don’t hold up to anyone with half a brain or anyone who is intellectually honest. To suggest that interpretation isn’t any of the things he mentions in his post is complete nonsense; the fact that he refuses to respond to people who point out the blatant holes in his logic leads many to believe that he has ulterior motives.

      The only alternative I can think of is that he confuses the state of mind that a writer typically needs to inhabit to create interesting work with criticism, and that he’s really just convincing himself that he has the right to write. Personally, I’ve never had a difficult time separating the generative process of my own work with potential interpretations of its meaning after the fact. Then again, I’m not an insecure writer.

  22. A D Jameson

      He also stole my credit cards. He bought cool stuff with them, though, so I forgave him.

  23. A D Jameson

      Hi Guest,

      Not that I know what’s going on in Chris’s mind (or even my own mind), but I tend to think of Chris as an idealist. He likes the idea of certain critical commitments—for instance, that criticism should be non-judgmental, or that texts shouldn’t have only a single fixed meaning. And he’s not alone there, those being fairly popular ideals, endorsed by a lot of people over the past sixty years or so.

      The problem is that they don’t really hold up, for various reasons. And I think that despite all of Chris’s passions and enthusiasms (which, again, I strongly admire, and routinely find compelling), he isn’t all that rigorous a critic, or that careful a reader. (Which makes sense, given his commitments: it’s hard to read carefully when you don’t think meaning important, or singular.) And so he’s not really thought through many of the contradictions in what he’s proposing. Which is all right, I guess, if his ambition is just to kick shit up. But I suspect that he’s also serious about these ideals, and it’s tough to reconcile his apparent passions with his lack of critical engagement. As some have noted, there’s a way in which he keeps repeating a lot of the same platitudes while ignoring anyone who points out their contradictions.

      But I also think the Chris-bashing is uncalled for, and doesn’t do anything to deepen the conversation. One can still be civil about this stuff, and a lot of these ideas are very complex. As I’ve said to Chris many times (and as he’s agreed), we all benefit from the debate and the conversation. And I also consider Chris an ally of sorts—he and I are both enthusiastic supporters of certain kinds of experimentation in art, even if we define that experimentation differently, or draw different conclusions about its significance.

      Probably the “meanest” or “nastiest” thing I’ve written at this site was in this post, which was partially a response to Chris (see points 16–19). But while I was trying to demonstrate a point (and to do so rather dramatically), I wasn’t trying to be ad hominem.

      My biggest regret regarding HG is that Chris and I never finished the debate we started last year. I’d love to resume it, and imagine Chris feels similarly. Although at the same time it’s also difficult, since Chris and I are both in PhD programs (which is why I haven’t been posting as much the past few weeks).


  24. Kent Johnson

      Admittedly, I haven’t been following all this nearly as closely as some others, and if I’ve missed something floridly doctrinaire that Chris Higgs has proclaimed let me know. But seeing AD Jameson’s longer post just now, I’m scratching my head. I have to say, AD: It’s not like Higgs’s critical “predisposition,” as you’re roughly describing it, is without some precedent. Like, I think Roland Barthes books, for example, are still available?
      Again, what’s the big beef? I find Higgs’s partisanship for more
      “constructed,” open, even fictionalized, modes of criticism to be perfectly healthy and refreshing. It could only give, seems to me, more flavor and savor to the whole. The field of poetry translation, for instance, has recently been evidencing an intriguing “subversive turn” in certain quarters; it’s not for everyone, but its unfolding praxis doesn’t really threaten the status or legitimacy of more traditional quarters. Time for criticism to do some modality touring, maybe, too!

  25. A D Jameson

      “A new text created by the interpreter.” -> bad.
      “To criticize a film by making one of one’s own.” -> good.

      Yeah, that pretty much cuts right to it. Why doesn’t Chris consider interpretation just another response? By denying it legitimacy, he privileges it—which seems very problematic.

      I think this would be a more coherent line from Chris: “Interpretation is futile, so people doing it are wasting their time and are deluded as to the significance of their work.” But that requires reasoning that what’s wrong isn’t the interpretation per se, but the significance attached to it. By condemning the act of interpretation itself as somehow inherently problematic, Chris actually implies that there is, indeed, something special about interpretation.

      It’s a pretty pickle, to be sure.


  26. Guest

      What’s the beef? That he misrepresents interpretation to argue for a particular kind of interpretation that’s arguably similar to the former? Also, someone please show me how traditional critics don’t do all these things to varying degrees, as if interpretation weren’t a complex process, as if it simply begins and ends with the formal evaluation of a text’s meaning in an academic journal article.

  27. Guest

      I have a PhD, which is why I question his motives. I have a difficult time believing that he presents these sorts of arguments within his program without getting completely destroyed.

      And it’s difficult to remain civil when a writer continues to post provocative pieces in a public forum and avoids defending his ideas with non-contributors. For at least a year, if not longer, commenters have tried to be civil with Chris, only to be completely ignored, dealt with in a passive-aggressive manner, or painted as mere haters. So its understandable that, over time, commenters have lost their patience with him.

  28. A D Jameson

      Hey Kent,

      Obviously Chris is representing some larger critical positions that I also have problems with. I don’t think I’ve indicated otherwise? But if I argue with Chris rather than with, say, Roland Barthes, it probably has something to do with the fact that Barthes is dead, while Chris and I blog at the same website. Meanwhile, I hope you’re not indicating that because Chris can find precedent for some of his arguments, he’s therefore correct (aka, appealing to authority).

      Moreover, Chris is far less rigorous in his positions than a lot of his precedents were/are. Barthes may have argued that the author does not determine the meaning of a text, but that’s a far cry from claiming that texts don’t mean anything whatsoever.

      I myself have no beef, little or big, with anyone encouraging people to respond however they wish to texts or artworks. Free response is a wonderful thing and I hereby add my voice to Chris’s in calling for it. My problem with Chris’s argument, rather, is twofold: 1) The critical value of such free response is debatable, and I disagree with Chris’s evaluation of it. 2) As you yourself note, Chris’s arguments are quite “partisan.” Standing up for the open text, and encouraging non-judgmental free response, are de facto attacks on formalist interpretation, which is what I do. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but are you suggesting that I shouldn’t respond when my critical commitments are being assailed? (Although that said, Chris is somewhat incoherent in his attacks on formalism. In some ways he seems opposed to it, while in other ways he seems to endorse it.)

      As for beef, whether this debate counts as big or little no doubt depends on how invested one is in this conversation. For me it’s pretty immense, and I trust you to understand why that is, because you’re a very smart professor presumably familiar with the critical issues at stake here. So I must say it surprises me somewhat that you would “scratch your head” and feign otherwise, and imply that I’m somehow peculiar to respond critically. (Are you suggesting that there’s something inherently wrong with evaluative criticism? Chris certainly is. I’d say it’s worth pondering where that idea comes from, and who benefits from it.)

      As always it’s wonderful to hear from you here; I’m a big fan of your work.


  29. A D Jameson

      For what it’s worth, I’ve been having a lot of problems with Disqus at this site as of late. I’ve seen a few of my comments disappear, and I don’t think any maliciousness is behind it, other than the malice of the automaton.

  30. Guest

      Perhaps regular folks are flagging comments? I just noticed that there’s now a flagging option. I just found it interesting that when I was posting under my real name, my comments were disappearing. I’ve had two posts this weekend deleted; both were written under my real name.

  31. A D Jameson

      A sandwich as a response does strike me as an excellent idea. [Shuffles off to the kitchen.]

  32. A D Jameson

      I’ll admit I’m quite eager to read Chris’s dissertation.

  33. A D Jameson

      Your real name isn’t Guest?

  34. A D Jameson

      I had a couple posts disappear as soon as I posted them.

  35. Guest

      What’s weird is that I can still see the deleted post on my end–the post is gone, but there’s message in its place that says “awaiting moderation.”

  36. Guest

      I don’t think that’s the case for moi. Both my posts were up for more than an hour, then were deleted. Both were written under my real name, a name some of the mods would recognize as one that’s not scared to challenge the ideas of contributors, even though contributors are allowed to provoke and express their points strongly, both formally and informally. Neither of the posts were delete-worthy. So, someone with a mod button deleted the comments, I’m pretty sure, after seeing my name. Whatever. I have an idea of who it was.

  37. deadgod

      Not a fan of either Higgs’s botched postmodern epistemology-critique nor of his, mm, ingenuousness.

      But pretty sure the series title How To Be A Critic is healthily and even amusingly self-deprecatory.

      –a fructive self-contradiction of the “There are no facts, only interpretations.” variety.

      I think arguing with its exclusivity and, thereby, arriving at a paradox alert foundational inclusivity is the point.

  38. deadgod

      A commitment of Higgs’s that I agree with – and I think you’ve argued against (with him) here – is the prejudice against intention as the maker of meaning–as, for example, the thing to be understood when one experiences ‘art’.

      Sometimes, as with biographical inference, artists’ (or politicians’, or your neighbor’s) claims and assessments of their intentions are useful or at least an interesting occasion for thought.

      But in comparison to how the experiences of (say) an artwork happen to you without such knowledge? Often, the intentional framework or claims–even of reasonably gauged accuracy–are, to me, insignificant.

      Eliot thought such-and-such of his poetry? Interesting, fruitful to engage with… but I think different things of it, you know? His perspective has an authority, but it augments, more or less mutatively, surely without supplanting the authority of one’s direct encounter with the poems.

      Now, collapsing ALL meaning/s into what the artist thinks the thing/experience means, either to attack or to defend — that’s just not rational. I doubt that that sense of the word “meaning”, to that extreme, is one that anyone really defends.

  39. deadgod

      Well, my argument is pretty extreme: I think all cognition is interpretative. I’d be tempted to call “interpretation” perspective, or to say that where there’s perspective, interpretation is already happening. I think ‘understanding’ is a kind of synonym for ‘mind’.

      An important thing about ‘understanding’ is that, while often it’s calculative, mechanical, capable of prediction, this reverse-engineering function doesn’t exhaust the range of understanding.

      In fact, the openness of understanding – and of ‘art’ – consists in this: that meaning always exceeds one’s specific understandings (and one’s general ‘ability to understand’). When one says one “understands”, one is making a pragmatic assertion: ‘I get it enough.’ One isn’t saying ‘I have full comprehension–there’s NO CHANCE I can be surprised.’

      –at least, that provisionality is what I privilege when I say that to know that one has had an experience is already to have interpreted it, and that that understanding is what one has cognitively of the experience.

  40. Matt Rowan

      I’m sorry.

  41. Molum Haggis

      Why can’t one have it both ways? You have to start with inconsistencies to arrive at anything consistent.

  42. deadgod

      I think he was inspired by Zeus — the statue was more likely holding a ‘lightning bolt’ than a trident and is posed more like the Zeuses on contemporaneous coins. Did the kid have stretch marks on his scalp?

  43. mimi
  44. Don
  45. Don

      Final thought (away from abstraction): your fellow htmlgiant contributor Roxane Gay wrote a compelling and very funny critical review of the movie ‘The Help’. Since she did not make a film in response… should she have refrained from writing the critical review? Should those incapable or uninterested in film-making refrain from interpreting or criticizing film? In whose interest would such a refrain be?

  46. Guest

      Good luck getting a response. Here’s what I’ve learned about some folks in the online lit world:

      There are certain people in the online lit world who champion this idea that incoherency or confusion is always good. They’ll take a statement from a well known writer about purposeful incoherence in art and use it as an excuse to be incoherent at all times, even when their version of incoherency lacks any meaningful purpose. If you point this out to them, you’re conservative and rigid and don’t understand their subversiveness; they often churn out prose that lacks clarity–either as fiction or criticism–and then conflate its lack of clarity with subversiveness. To be unclear, for these writers, is somehow a virtue in and of itself, which is about as dumb as someone saying that it’s a virtue to be clear in order to be clear–without any larger purpose, to write a novel or essay where all the points line up “clearly” sans a discernible purpose.

      These writers are merely sentimental in the opposite direction of the writers they pretend to decry. It’s like the kid in workshop who makes fun of a squishy love story that could be turned into a Lifetime movie and, for his own workshop, writes a mindless grossout story with senseless violence and says, “hey, look at me! I’m not sentimental.” Have you noticed, by the way, how many of these types rely on the grossout factor—how many of them obsess on bodily fluids and a generally shallow conception of the grotesque?

      Many of these writers are fucking lazy, throw crap against the wall in order to throw crap against the wall and, when/if challenged, play the “I’m an experimental writer” card and quote Dennis Copper to cover all their bases, so you can’t win with these people. They’ll continue to mask laziness with fraudulent “experimental” posturing. Of course, there are truly innovative and experimental writers online, but there are just as many in the former category who give the Avante Garde a bad fucking name.

      Hopefully that helps explain why you won’t get a response–your legitimate criticisms are simply being chalked up as supposed resistance to experimental writing. Obviously, that’s a bunch of bullshit, but that’s the neat little incubator Chris Higgs and others have created for themselves that keeps them cozy and safe.

  47. Guest Post: Of Hendrix and Mnemotechnics by Mike Saye | Five Points (The Blog)

      […] I must point out that there should be a purpose in memorizing these poems, and voila! I have found fine purpose.  Should you follow this link, be prepared to read a good little blog post by Christopher Higgs […]

  48. How To Be A Critic (pt. 3) | HTMLGIANT

      […] (Parts 1 & 2.) […]

  49. Duckter Yezno

      All due respect, but how is this rethinking criticism when it’s merely reiterating around three decades + of it?

  50. Guest

      Your post makes no sense. Anyone who genuinely cares about “interpretation” should get angry with this kind of sloppy and lazy criticism filled with fallacies, red herrings, and juvenile assumptions/generalizations. The mere fact that the person wrote his column “on the internet” is irrelevant; you even suggest above that his pieces–which have appeared on the internet–have influenced your thinking, which sort of undermines your suggestion that by appearing on the Internet, they are less meaningful.

  51. How To Be A Critic (pt. 5) | HTMLGIANT

      […] part two, I expanded on those […]

  52. 25 Points: Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation” | HTMLGIANT

      […] Here’s what Chris implores, by way of contrast: […]

  53. Manda-rae Reads A Lot Reviews Dr. 2 and does an awesome drawing of the doctor | The Whimsy of Creation: The Blog of Tieryas

      […] a funny take on Dr. 2, I really loved it. A while back, Christopher Higgs wrote a great piece at HTMLGiant about reviews: “I introduced a network of ideas aimed at rethinking our approach to criticism by […]

  54. Five Points Of Hendrix and Mnemotechnics - Five Points

      […] I must point out that there should be a purpose in memorizing these poems, and voila! I have found fine purpose.  Should you follow this link, be prepared to read a good little blog post by Christopher Higgs […]