Critical Positions

First, all criticism must be done with love, can only be done from love. This is true in both arts criticism and critical art – or criticism of any kind. Criticism without love is spite. Those who criticize without loving what they criticize do so out of spite – too often because what they are criticizing is good, and they hate it for that very reason. Their only purpose is to tear down what they criticize. There are, of course, bad things that must be torn down, but one does not criticize these things – one attacks them.

We must criticize the arts or criticize through the arts as a parent criticizes a child (I use the word “criticize” here in the most positive way possible – as loving correction) – with the loving hope of bringing out what we know to be the best that child has to offer. But the child must know it is loved, must feel loved, before it can withstand criticism. Children who know they are loved can take loving criticism and use it to improve himself. Children who are not loved, who do not see the criticism as coming from love, will receive the criticism with resentment – and rightfully so. He will see criticism as something harmful, something meant to tear him down rather than lift him up. This lifting up, this is and should be the goal of all criticism.

My own particular field is literature, and so I shall use it as an example. In choosing a novel to critique, I would – and should – pick a novel I love, while avoiding novels I hate. There is an element of logic here – why would I want to spend more time with a novel I disliked and whose artistry I do not respect? Thus, I would never do a criticism of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which I consider to be the single worst novel I have ever read. Instead, I would rather do a criticism of, say, Don DeLillo’s Underworld (to pick another contemporary novelist), which I love immensely and, in my love of it, am able to see both what is good about the novel, as well as what does not quite work, in my opinion. I can do this because I am approaching the novel from a position of love.
Now some may object that a better position is that of neutrality. But neutrality is the same as saying indifference, and you are certainly unable to say anything either positive or negative, or constructive in any way, if you are indifferent. Only someone who loves something or someone will want to take the time and make the effort to critique it. Only someone who loves something or someone will want what is best for it. Even hatred is preferable to indifference – one can gain something from it, if one views such criticism with a cool eye. With hatred, at least some emotion was involved – they cared enough to hate. With indifference, nothing is accomplished – it is the true opposite of love (and love’s twin, hatred).

A good example of a loving critique is the creation of new art in response to the work(s) in question. I would never write a novel in response to Blood Meridian – to do so would be to acknowledge value where, in fact, I find none. But even though I have various philosophical problems with DeLillo’s paranoia, conspiracy-mentality, and apocalyptic world view, all of which I reject, I do consider him worthy of emulating and of responding to artistically and philosophically. I have in fact worked on a novel that does just that – respond to DeLillo (and postmodernism in general) philosophically. Indeed, this novel (which I do need to get back to working on) would have been impossible without my having read Underworld.

So criticism must be done from love. Criticizing from hatred will not work because those being criticized will refuse to listen, meaning it cannot be constructive – and, in the end, what is criticism meant to be if not constructive? Criticizing from hatred will not work because we are blinded by that hatred to whatever value there is in the thing or person in question. And whose who are being critiqued will not listen to anything we have to say, because they know we do not have their best interests at heart. Thus, my position on not doing any criticism of Blood Meridian – lovers of the book will gain nothing from anything I have to say about it. But hopefully lovers of Underworld would be able to read a critique I wrote of it and be able to see it in a new light, uncover new beauties in it that had previously gone unseen, understand what I have a problem with in the book and why, and investigate with me the possible reasons for DeLillo’s choices. They will listen because they know I love the book.

The same is true of children – and of countries. Each must know the one being critical is only doing it out of love and only wants what is best – only wants to lift them up to greater heights, to make them a better person or a better country. Criticism from hatred is only meant to tear down, to destroy, not to build up – and the one who is being criticized knows this, no matter the objections of the one who criticizes from hatred. Everyone, from the time they were a small child, knows the difference. That is why criticism must always be done only from a position of love.

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Milton Wilcain’s Intelligence

Milton Wilcain was obviously not a very smart man. Sure, he went to college, eventually receiving a Master’s Degree, and he ran a business employing three hundred people, but we know he was unintelligent nonetheless. Despite these seeming contradictions, we can come to this conclusion because if he had been intelligent, he would have been allowed to keep his money to spend as he wanted and he would have been allowed to live as he wished, without anyone telling him how. Instead, other people took what he owned and used it better than he could have. But Milton was not content at being unintelligent, so he decided to run for the city council.

Milton soon proved that, as dim-witted as he was, clearly he was more intelligent than his opponent, and he was easily elected. As he took his seat on the council, he was certain he could feel his intelligence increasing. He was certain at the very least that he was more intelligent than the rest of the men in the city, save perhaps his fellow council members and the mayor. He did many brilliant things for the city, including figuring out a way to take more money from the lower and middle classes so a brand new Opera House could be built, and managing to keep the potholes down to a mere ten per block.

It soon became clear to Milton, though, that his rise in intelligence was not enough. He was certain he knew very well what the city needed, but since he was not allowed to make many decisions, it soon became apparent that he did not. Milton was at first confused. He was certain he knew more than either the state or federal government what the city needed, since he was living there, but then he remembered that as a private citizen he was obviously unaware of the best way in which to live, so he could possibly be wrong about whether or not he knew how to run a city better than the state, which is why Milton decided once again to try to raise his intelligence.

The run for the state legislature was rougher and closer, but Milton managed to prevail, clearly showing his superior intelligence. He moved with his family to the capitol, and as he neared it, he was certain he could feel his intelligence growing. But it was when he took his seat in the legislature that he became certain his intelligence had become higher than he remembered it. He became certain he was far more intelligent and knew the right and proper things to do than did the city governments and especially the private citizens. He made certain the cities, which were obviously run by a bunch of idiots who had no idea how to run a city let alone make peoples’ lives better, did exactly what he decided they should do, whether he had been in the city or not. After all, as a state legislator, he knew what was best for the people, more than those morons running the cities. They were always asking for unimportant things like tax cuts and more money for roads. Milton had more important things to do for his citizens, such as building a new airport at the capitol and preventing new licenses from being given out so the state’s largest company would not have any competition.

But again it did not take long before Milton came to realize he was not as intelligent as he could be. It was growingly obvious that, since he was not trusted to make the right decisions for his state, there were people more intelligent than he. Otherwise, they would have obviously allowed him to make more decisions about his state, since he lived there and therefore should have known more about it than the federal government. But this was clearly not the case. And Milton decided that he wanted to be more intelligent than he was.

Having won much praise from his fellow party members, he easily won a seat in Congress. With this win, it was apparent that Milton was one of a handful of the smartest men in the state. He could feel his intelligence increasing as he boarded the plane and took his seat. The rapid takeoff gave his mind a jolt of intelligence unlike any it had experienced, and he grew smarter and smarter the closer he came to Washington. Upon landing, he was bewildered at how intelligent he had become. He suddenly knew exactly what everyone needed and how they should run their lives. But it wasn’t until he stepped into the capitol building that he really began to realize how important and brilliant he was compared to the average citizen, who he was certain could not feed, house, or clothe themselves without his legislative assistance, let alone educate their children or make good decisions, especially with their own money. So convinced was Milton of this later conclusion, the first thing he proposed was a tax increase, to make certain more of the citizen’s money was spent properly. He was also convinced that the states, counties, and cities (need we include the ultimate example of mental dullness, the private citizen?) were full of idiots who were completely incapable of making good decisions for their citizens, and he worked to make sure the federal government had more and more power and was more capable of dictating to the local and state governments how they should be run. Milton was one of the country’s most successful federal legislators and was highly praised by his party. After all, he managed to make sure more federal money was spent in his state than in any other, whether it was new bridges linking little-used roads or his fight for a new atomic clock being placed in his state (you can’t be too certain what time it is, after all). In fact, before Milton arrived in Washington, nobody knew there were that many brilliant unknown artists in his state. There were few who had little to show for all they had done and spent. He was Washington’s most successful legislator.

After many years, Milton decided to retire. His pension was large enough to live comfortably on and he was very happy with what he had accomplished. When his term ended, Milton cleared out his office and had everything sent back to his home state, which he hadn’t seen since his last campaign. After the retirement party his comrades had thrown for him, Milton boarded his plane to leave his beloved Washington. But when he did, an amazing thing happened. His remarkable intelligence was beginning to disappear. As he crossed the country, Milton became dumber and dumber until finally, upon landing, he realized that he had become as stupid as he had been before he had embarked on his famous career. We know this because if he had been smart, he would have been allowed to keep his money to spend as he wanted and he would have been allowed to live as he wished, without anyone telling him how.