Friday News: Criticism, journalism, feminism, and swearing
Is Everyone Qualified to Be a Critic? -Adam Kirsch and Charles McGrath debate the question of criticism – namely whether there should be formal “qualifications.” McGrath laments what he seems to see as a general degradation of critical writing these days (ah, the good old days!), and argues that informed judgments and discernment (learned, ideally) distinguishes a true critic from someone who isn’t really qualified, either as a critic or a writer. Kirsch, by contrast, argues that judgment isn’t made according to a universal set of rules. Rather,
The roots of criticism lie not in judgment but in receptivity and response. Everyone, upon encountering a work of art, has some kind of response, ranging from boredom or incomprehension to amazement and gratitude. In this sense, everyone really is a critic, in a way that not everyone is a painter or a poet. It requires some special talent to create an artwork, but any conscious person will have a reaction to that artwork. What makes someone a critic in the vocational sense is, first, the habit of questioning her own reactions — asking herself why she feels as she does. Second, she must have the ability to formalize and articulate those questions — in other words, she must be a writer. To be able to say what you feel and why: That is the basic equipment of a critic. –New York Times
Los Angeles power brokers demand local leadership at LA Times -Following the firing of LA Times CEO and Publisher Austin Beutner, a number of other executives have been resigning, a widespread fear of layoffs persists at the paper. Beutner’s expulsion came as a surprise, as he had been at the paper for only a year, and he has already been replaced by Tim Ryan from the Baltimore Sun. Especially interesting is the response of about 60 local political and community leaders who are worried that the paper is moving away from reflecting and serving the local LA community, perhaps reflecting the increasingly consolidated and monopolistic nature of major journalism outlets.
The group, which includes former Los Angeles Mayors Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa, sent an open letter Thursday to Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin expressing concern over Beutner’s dismissal and the direction of the newspaper.
“As you move ahead, we strongly urge you to continue with leadership that knows and loves Los Angeles, and shares our commitment to its future,” the coalition wrote.
Citing the “impactful journalism and meaningful community leadership” achieved during Beutner’s short-lived tenure at the newspaper, the letter urged a continuation of his progress. –Chicago Tribune
Speak Up!: A Graphic Account of Roxane Gay and Erica Jong’s Uncomfortable Conversation -Although much has been written about the awkward exchange at the Decatur Book Festival between Roxane Gay and Erica Jong about feminism’s relationship to women of color and issues of race more generally, two pieces – from Electric Lit and another from Flavorwire – raise some particularly good points. As Alison Herman points out in Flavorwire, Jong’s embarrassing and out of touch reaction to the question during Q&A raised by Randa Jarrar is “evidence that feminist thought is doing exactly what it should be: evolving over time.” and that it is “reassuring” that “the discourse itself has moved forward without [Jong].” In Electric Lit, MariNaomi talks about her own discomfort as an audience member, contrasting her response with that of Jarrar, which she characterizes as forthright and assertive without being disrespectful (unlike Jong, who, by all accounts, came across as defensive, condescending, and embarrassingly ignorant). Because of Jarrar’s willingness to go to an uncomfortable place, MariNaomi argues, an important conversation that reverberated through the entire festival took place, and one that clearly needed to happen:
Although nothing got resolved that night, many of us left with new questions to ponder. I left feeling inspired, nervous, frustrated, and alive. The seeds of change had been planted in my mind.
Throughout the festival weekend, that keynote conversation was the most talked-about subject, with a number of articles following, such as this and this.
This would have never been news had the topic not been brought up by Randa. When I first sat down, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask that first difficult question, but now I see the chasm between a moment of discomfort versus the greater good.–Electric Lit & Flavorwire
Opinion: Books, like Into the River, shouldn’t promote swearing -Here’s an interesting perspective on the recent challenge to Ted Dawe’s Into the River: the book contains too much swearing, and is therefore a bad example for teenagers, especially boys. It’s not a free speech or religious issue, Jock Anderson claims, but rather one of having books for young people be an example of good language, especially if the goal is to promote literacy. I’ll leave it to your judgment to discern the value of this argument.
Mr. Beckett told Radio New Zealand: “Something we’re trying to do is increase literacy, especially among young males from educational deprived backgrounds, and we’re looking for material to engage with them. As soon as you put R14 on it, you have to ask, who are the people who have heft in society to go through the process and get their value system imposed?”
Liberally sprinkling a book aimed at youngsters with foul language – of a kind that not so long ago would have led to arrest – is no way to increase anyone’s literacy. Certainly not that of teenagers.
Writers have plenty of perfectly good expressive words in the English language to choose from, without reducing literary and language standards to the lowest common denominator. –Radio New Zealand