Critical Practice

Being a critic is not simply looking for the points of failure, shortcomings, and breaking points in cultural artifacts (e.g. music, art, literature, software, technology, and so forth.) Criticism is a practice of comparison and rich analysis and a way of understanding cultural production. One might even call criticism a methodology, though "methodologizing" criticism does not give us anything particularly useful, nor does it make any practices or skills more concrete.

Criticism is really the only way that we can understand culture and cultural products. In short, criticism renders culture meaningful.

I wrote the above in response to this "On Being a Critic" post that a long time reader of this site wrote a while ago. Most of the differences between our approaches to criticism derives from technical versus non-technical understandings of critical practice. With that in mind, and in an effort to consolidate some thoughts about methodology, criticism, and theoretical practice, I'd like to provide two theses that define good critical practice, and provide some starting points for "getting it right:"

  • Criticism is comparative. If you analyze a single thing in isolation, this analysis is not criticism. By contrast, one of the best ways to make poor criticism more powerful is to include more information (data) to strengthen the comparison. Comparison should highlight or help explain the phenomena or objects you are critiquing, but should always serve agenda and goals of the criticism to avoid overloading readers with too much information.
  • Criticism ought to have its own agenda. It is impossible to avoid bias entirely, and from this impossibility springs criticism's greatest strength: the power to productively examine and contribute to cultural discourses. While critical essays are perhaps the most identifiable form of criticism, there are others: novels, lectures, films, art, and perhaps even technology itself, can all be (and often are) critical practices in themselves.

Everything else is up for grabs.

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