By criticism I do not mean the activity by which one points out the flaws or merits in a (body of work) as one does in a review, often with a purpose of either recommending the work for consumption by others, or submitting a recommendation for its place within (or outside) of a canon.
Nor is it the activity by which the critic engages the author of the text on what she should or should not have done to make the work good or better. I am not here as a judge of craft.
I mean (but not simply mean) the set of activities by which I make meaning by interacting with a particular work (often referred to hereafter, but not exclusively, as text). The critical pieces I make may be recommendatory, but they are not exclusively so. Most often they are acts of appreciation, as this space (the We Remember Love blog) is not professional. It is a hobby space wherein myself (and guest writers) write about subjects of personal interest.
For the casual readers of this blog, I apologize for what would seem to be a formal shift in my language. I prefer to write this way about this particular subject (for now at least). For more familiar readers I’ve no doubt that you would detect the strong personal feeling that went into this piece. I apologize also that I did not write this for you. I am however, okay with sharing this to whomever is interested.
In this post, a critical view of what I’ve done here in this blog (and beyond) so far, and perhaps what I intend to do in the future.
Here is how I thought I practiced criticism:
I am a post-structuralist with a high appreciation of postmodernism. I refuse to limit myself to what I thought as pervasive outmoded critical practices. By this I mean close-reading as used by mostly Liberal Humanist critics in the anime blogosphere who are, almost to a man, completely unaware of the theoretical underpinnings of their methodology.
They sternly think of their work as “telling it the way it is,” often (but not always) appealing to objectivity.
This is the way we’ve been taught to read (analyze) books in high school. Those who do not go out of their way to study other critical practices will most likely take this method for granted as truth, and look upon other practices as unnecessary sophistry.
Before I go further, here is a presentation of the tenets of Liberal Humanism (done with the important contributions of Kaiserpingvin):
I’m not saying that every single reviewer out there follows these tenets to the letter in every post they publish. In many cases, the intentional fallacy (tenets 2 & 3) is disregarded (writers are blamed directly, harshly, and at times with contempt for perceived intentions or failure to achieve intended effects).
Related to this, innovation and originality is highly valued (in contrast to tenet 4). Cliché and trope subversion is also valued. The experience of the new and novel gets attention and praise.
Otherwise, standards of quality are professed. What is important is what is good. What is good, is something that says something about the human condition, uplifts human thought, if not human spirit. There is a correlation with the perceived good in the work, and the good it represents in humans (even if all the text does is show how bad we are). If it tells a kind of truth, freely; is complete and without gaps or holes, achieves symmetry and has integrity, then it is good and beautiful.
Works that accomplish this are included in “Best of” lists and favored lists by both critics and fans.
While I did not think I was above this, I thought I was beyond this.
I was too educated in criticism and meta-critcism (the criticism of criticism) to practice “mere” formalist Liberal Humanist criticism.
I thought I accomplished this by not arriving at a binary conclusion: good/bad. If I wrote about a show or manga, it’s obvious that I like something about it and I thought it interesting enough to devote crafting a post on. Some examples:
- The Inauthentichity of Senjougahara (Bakemonogatari 03)
- As Cruel Gods Go, Haruhi Shows Her Age
Lies, Murderous Intent, Remembering Love Gone Wrong, WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS Black Rose Society Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena
Such essays explore and speculate on specific items in the text that are beyond making a decision whether the subject show is ether good or not good.
However, in my revisiting them I’ve noticed that if there’s one thing in common, the role I play here is mostly an intermediary between the text and the reader. I am interpreting the symbols so to speak, consistent with Tenet 10. How do I know I was doing this? It’s because I still didn’t want to appear like I pulled the claims I made in these posts out of thin air.
For all the overt rhetoric I spout of making meaning, what I end up doing is still actively interpreting meaning. In these cases I am the manservant of the text and the reader as opposed as an independent agent of meaning construction.
Here is another set of essays:
- Char, I am Disappoint: Revelations of a 3rd Viewing of Char’s Counterattack
- Someone shows a bit of character: Ikari Gendo of Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Acknowledging Our Guilt for Our Choice of Heroes: Code Geass’ Lelouch Lamperouge
All three are character analyses. One thing that none of them can escape is a moral framework. All three subjects are acknowledged as having moral failures, and as being interesting for being so. The works they belong to are significant because they present moral quandaries for the viewer to consider. What is present in these essays, even if I’m not saying it, is that it is good for the viewer to be provoked this way (an examined life is good, &c).
This third set of essays is part of my professed critical perspective, that is to appreciate works that “remember love” for others as part of a kind of tradition (e.g. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Eureka SeveN, Turn A Gundam, Martian Successor Nadesico).
- Remembering Love as Homage in Anime: Eureka SeveN x Mobile Suit Gundam
- Remembering Love for Gundam – Another Reference You Probably Missed: Macross Frontier 21 “Azure Ether”
- The Third Impact, The Innovator/Newtype Future, and Grace O’Connor’s Conspiracy: The Evils of Unification in (Real) Robot Anime
While there is indeed a difference between mainstream or popular critical practice and the things I do in these essays, the difference is actually superficial. The posts merely avoid good/bad value judgments because it takes for granted that the shows being discussed are good.
The authorial arrogance here works like this: If I’m writing about a show, I don’t have to justify how good it is. Rather, here I show how all these things can be found within the work. It naturally follows that the work is a quality one.
Here is the crux of the epiphany:
In my efforts to go against the grain, I find myself not very different at all from everyone else. I just ended up working harder to end up being pretty much the same kind of critic.
In theoretical terms, here is what I am:
I am a post-structuralist by education.
I have a soft-spot for deconstruction.
I am a post-colonial reader by inclination.
I am a structuralist by habit.
I am a liberal humanist by sentiment.
For all the thought and work I put in, I really am after the same things with almost everyone else. I was just quite inauthentic about it.
After discovering my former professors on facebook and getting in touch with them, I remembered love for all I used to study. I re-read the essays of my idols, and looked long and hard at myself, because I want to hold myself up to the standards I’ve been trained to meet.
What I attempted here is something like a deconstruction of my own critical practice. I read my body of work against itself. But what do I do with the findings? I intend to reclaim my authentic critical voice. I want to achieve symmetry between my professed intentions and my actual behavior.
I don’t want to come up with something convuluted and cheesy like a post-post-structuralist approach. Rather I just make peace with the idea that I am a person not at odds with nihilism, and from this peace I freely use even post-structuralist methods in keeping with structuralist habits. Why, because I’m a romantic the way Liberal Humanists are.
I was once an academician, and my goal was to teach philosophy through literature. I majored in Literature, with a minor in Philosophy. I found reading philosophy immensely forbidding, and often boring. At the same time I often found the discussion of literature incredibly bland, and often boring. I thought (and still think) that the best way to communicate philosophical thought was through stories. I would use the study of stories to communicate philosophy.
I have a very, very, very soft spot for Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
What Harvard University does using the HBO series The Wire is made from the stuff of my dreams. That is, to use contemporary writing and not just great (European) novels to communicate practical and philosophical ideas.
How I value all this I think, is informed by my Liberal Humanist bias. I may sympathize with the nihilism within postmodernist thought. I may sympathize with the methods of post-structuralism to read the text against its professed meanings. However, I am truly interested in appreciation and not destruction. I am a builder and not a destroyer.
Where one would rend a text asunder, I would establish symmetry. Not because there is inherent symmetry in anything; rather, I acknowledge the condition of nihilism and from its nothingness create my own (if arbitrary) order.
This is love, as I remember it to be.