Monday, March 21, 2011

The criticism of enthusiasm

[Update | Greetings, visitors from Eyresses. Thanks for clicking through; I hope you'll read what I've actually written. I'd love it if you also clicked through to Roland Greene's post, to which this is a response.]

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This is a response to Roland Greene's post "The Social Role of the Critic," cross-posted from the comment thread at Arcade.

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Roland writes:
The fact that so many blogs are produced by enthusiasts is a symptom; critics are not enthusiasts.

This is perhaps the central point that fan studies would contest. One can have reservations about fan studies, but I think there's something to be said for the notion that there can be a meaningfully critical criticism of enthusiasm, what Catharine Stimpson long ago called "reading for love." I've heard Roland argue elsewhere that perhaps close reading ought to be rethought vis-à-vis other modes of critical reading, like translation. I could imagine this argument compassing creative responses of greater or lesser craft as well, as scholars like Julie Levin Russo have suggested, most recently at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference a few weeks ago.*

It is probably not an accident that so much of the critical fan culture that inspires so much scorn is driven by women (think Eyresses or Gaga Stigmata). Feminine reading is by definition uncritical reading, as we see in that scene in Nana (1880) in which Nana, mass culture in the flesh, reads a naturalist novel about a character very much like herself and doesn't "get it." But as theorists of children's literature have pointed out, sometimes enthusiasm is only made possible by a radical imaginative rereading--or rewriting--of the text that does indeed tell us something about literature that's different from what literature tells us about itself. To return to Nana, for example, to be a reader gendered "feminine" is to constantly love literature only insofar as one can critically reread or, indeed, rewrite the elements that figure you, the reader, as, oxymoronically, a non-reader, one who is incapable of reading critically or of "getting it."

The question that Arcade itself, with its three rubrics of "Conversations," "Transactions," and "Publications," raises is what an e-journal is besides a blog, and what a blog is besides an e-journal. Is the front page of Arcade simply a continuum from the raw to the cooked? Do these rubrics differ in degree or in kind?

As my colleague Monica Soare has posed the question, what besides gender and class is the difference between the gendered and classed terms of "enthusiasm" and "connoiseurship"?

*Naturally I heard of this through the high-pitched, fluttering, terrifyingly feminine interface with mass culture known as Twitter, where a bad music video performed by a thirteen-year-old girl has been trending for a week, above several quite major news events, largely on the strength of an outpouring of scorn that was, oddly, directed specifically at the female child in question, rather than at any of the many adults actually responsible for the video.

Huyssen, Andreas. After the Great Divide. Bloomington: U of Indiana P, 1983. Print.

Stimpson, Catharine R. "Reading for Love: Canons, Paracanons, and Whistling Jo March." New Literary History 21.4 (Autumn 1990) 957-976. JSTOR. Web. 21 March 2011.


Rohan Maitzen said...

Another term that might come in between Roland's apparently quite restrictive definition of literary criticsm (vs. his "criticism" in scare quotes) and enthusiasm is "appreciation," which incorporates both love and knowledge, and need not be uncritical.

the high-pitched, fluttering, terrifyingly feminine interface with mass culture known as Twitter

I'm curious: are you being ironic? Or is this actually how you view / experience Twitter? If the latter, "feminine" how, exactly, and "terrifyingly" so to whom--to you? to the not-feminine?

Natalia said...

Appreciation isn't really where I was going with this; I was thinking more of the kinds of informal critical projects that I linked in the post, which involve some appropriation as well as criticism. "Appreciation" still has that whiff of midcentury male authority, wouldn't you say? Whereas something like Gaga Stigmata bears a freakishly close resemblance to Jack Halberstam's (excellent) blog. Fan criticism is quite often a queer criticism, in the abstract sense of the term.

As for Twitter:

Since I didn't link in the original post, there's no reason you ought to know that I've written previously on Twitter as a form of feminine discourse. It's seen as gossipy and inconsequential, and it's characterized by a radical multiplicity associated with the feminine. Its figuration (or branding, let's say) as birdlike is also a way of feminizing the form, since birds have long been associated with femininity and especially an illegible and unsoundable female communication, from Philomel to Hitchcock's The Birds.

Maybe Twitter's ultimate emblem is the emblem of its undoing, the Fail Whale. So many people are using Twitter that it crashes. The largest creature in the world is thus lifted out of the water by a flock of indistinguishable birds, each tiny on its own, yet powerful enough as a mass to move the unitary whale. Twitter is undone by all the tweeting.

As the gender-bending ornithologist of The Birds puts it: "I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance!"

[on the gendering of Twitter | on the gendering of birds: 1, 2]

Rohan Maitzen said...

Appreciation is where I was going with this more than where I thought you were going. I'm not sure about that "whiff" you mention--and even if it did sound (smell?) that way to some, I'm more concerned with what it looks like as a critical practice today.

Thanks for the links to your posts about Twitter; I'll take a look.