I wanted to call attention to this column by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings on the topic of criticism.
One of the many noteworthy things about Brain Pickings is that Ms. Popova only writes about the things, the very diverse books and art and concepts, that interest her. Her goal, as she writes here, isn’t that of a critic, a cultural or philosophical arbiter, judging what is worthy of one’s attention and what is not. She interprets what she encounters, certainly, and draws connections between disparate writers and ideas. But seldom, or never, does she say “this is wrong” or “this is bad.”
Or rather she does, but only indirectly, in what she chooses not to discuss. She points out that criticism can take another form: “a celebration of the good by systematic omission of the bad.” She elaborates:
“To put in front of the reader only works that are worthy, and to celebrate those with a consistent editorial standard, is to create a framework for what ‘good’ means, and thus to implicitly outline the ‘bad,’ the unworthy, by way of negative space around the good. The celebrator then becomes a critic without being critical – at least not with the abrasive connotations the term has come to bear – yet upholds the standards of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ work with just as much rigor.”
Steve Goodier uses the language of self-help when he says, “Who do you spend time with? Criticizers or encouragers? Surround yourself with those who believe in you. Your life is too important for anything less.” Life is indeed much too short to be spent wallowing in the negative, spending our valuable, all-too-brief time on this planet with things (and people) that don’t do us good.
This is a philosophy I have tried to embrace with my own blog, different though it may be from Popova’s Brain Pickings. The last role I want to take on for myself is that of critic, taking some item of cultural or artistic interest and judging it “good” or “bad” or “mediocre.” I want to spend my time writing about things that interest me, excite me, inspire me, motivate me, give me a sense of joy or wonder. Many, I’d like to think, have a desire to read the same sorts of things. With the negativity that is so ubiquitous online, it’s nice to be able to put that aside occasionally. I certainly don’t want to contribute to the negativity, at my blog or elsewhere.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do.” Popova approaches the issue from the other direction by quoting E. B. White: “a writer has the duty … to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”
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