Saturday, December 11, 2010

Late to the Party

Back in November, Niall Harrison wrote this post responding to this post by Jason Sanford. This kicked off the annual Reviewers Introspection Week, which I unfortunately missed because of Thanksgiving travels. By the time I got caught up it seemed that the moment had passed. (Sanford also posted a response-to-the-response here.)

Fast forward to yesterday, when I was in Barnes & Noble with a $25 gift card burning a hole in my pocket. I found their essays/lit crit section and a copy of Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism jumped into my hands. It's on my list of Books I Ought To Read, so I bought it and started browsing. In the introduction, I found this:

The subject matter of literary criticism is an art, and criticism is evidently something of an art too. This sounds as though criticism were a parasitic form of literary expression, an art based on pre-existing art, a second-hand imitation of creative power. On this theory critics are intellectuals who have a taste for art but lack both the power to produce it and the money to patronize it, and thus form a class of cultural middlemen, distributing culture to society at a profit to themselves while exploiting the artist and increasing the strain on his public. The conception of the critic as a parasite or artist manque is still very popular, especially among artists. It is sometimes reinforced by a dubious analogy between the creative and procreative functions, so that we hear about the "impotence" and "dryness" of the critic, his hatred for genuinely creative people, and so on. The golden age of anti-critical criticism was the latter part of the nineteenth century, but some of its prejudices are still around.

Nothing new under the sun, eh? And here's Frye's take on Why We Critique:

There is another reason why criticism has to exist. Criticism can talk, and all the arts are dumb. In painting, sculpture, or music it is easy enough to see that the art shows forth, but cannot say anything. And, whatever it sounds like to call the poet inarticulate or speechless, there is a most important sense in which poems are as silent as statues... The artist, as John Stuart Mill saw in a wonderful flash of critical insight, is not heard but overheard. The axiom of criticism must be, not that the poet does not know what he is talking about, but that he cannot talk about what he knows. To defend the right of criticism to exist at all, therefore, is to assume that criticism is a structure of thought and knowledge existing in its own right, with some measure of independence from the art it deals with.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Dance Card Fills Up

It's all official now that I'll be stepping up as the editor of the Locus Roundtable Blog. This is a great opportunity, and it's already going pretty well. We're planning to start posting new content in January, to accompany the even more exciting launch of Locus Magazine digital editions. Speaking as someone who is paying more for a digital subscription to Scientific American than I would for a print subscription, I am really looking forward to seeing this!

I'm also very happy to have found a new way to help out the Locus folks. I feel like Charles Brown and everyone at Locus were all instrumental in helping me become part of this amazing community (as I wrote when Charles passed away). Previously the best avenue I've had for helping them out in return is to help staff the Locus dealer's room table at any con where we happen to coincide. This is a way better and more intensive challenge to undertake.

So here's what my dance card looks like for 2011:

I think I'm just about full up. Of course I'm always thrilled to hear about new opportunities in and around the community, but these are some big plates to juggle. I'm thinking that Spiral Galaxy will get even fewer posts, if that's possible, and mostly my occasional thoughts about classic sf/f stories.

Speaking of which you may ask: But Karen, the Spiral Galaxy blog has relatively few posts, and vanishingly small amounts of traffic? How the heck are you going to handle a Big Name Blog? First off, it's much easier for me to get motivated to Get Stuff Done for Locus than it is for my own dinky blog. And more importantly, we'll be making use of the help of lots of Friends of Locus. Locus has always been central to the conversation of our genre community, and we're hoping to bring some of that conversation onto the blog. As editor-in-chief Liza Groen Trombi puts it: Locus is People! So I'm planning on recruiting a broad and diverse swath of people to chime in over the next few months. Please contact me either at my email address or at LocusRoundtable [at] if you have any ideas for what you'd like to see there.

Luckily I managed to avoid getting roped into all this until after I finished my Master's degree, and thank all the fates that I managed to graduate early! It looks like I'm going to be ::ahem:: "Fully Engaged" in 2011, but it's shaping up to be a fun and interesting year.