So Whose Critique Are We Really Reading?

According to Bayard and Goldsmith it’s acceptable to not only not read but also to repurpose someone else’s reading of something they read (or may have read or may not have read). So this makes me wonder when we are asked to cite reviews of any form of text how can we be sure that what we are reading is actually written by someone who actually read what they are critiquing? According to Bayard:
One of the implicit rules of the virtual library is that we must not attempt to find out the extent to which someone who claims he has read a book has actually done so, for two reasons. The first is that life in the virtual library would quickly become unlivable if not for a certain amount of ambiguity around the truth of our statements, and if we were instead forced to reply clearly to questions about what exactly we had read. The other reason is that the very notion of what sincerity would mean is questionable, since knowing what is meant by having read a book, as we have seen is highly problematic (Bayard 126).

Bayard then relates the story of Lucien (an aspiring writer) and Lousteau ( a journalist) who opens Lucien’s eyes to the underworld of reviewed books that have never been read by the reviewer. When Lucien shocked to hear of this exclaims “But what about criticism, the sacred task of criticism?” to which Lousteau says: “My dear chap…Criticism’s a scrubbing brush which you mustn’t use on flimsy material – it would tear them to shreds.” He then goes on to give Lucien advice on how to mark his manuscript to see if it is indeed read by the publisher to whom he is submitting his works.
So this brings me again, to my question – how do we know for sure that what we are reading as critiques are really critiques of the actual article in question? With shared culture, patch-writing, and reframing — terms which Goldsmith brings to light, what is real and what is not real? As Goldsmith says “Success lies in knowing what to include and – more important – what to leave out…. [and] she who reframes words in the most charged and convincing way will be judged the best” (The Chronicle, 9/11/2011). This seems to fall in line with the same way Lousteau massages his critique based on the audience as well as what he hasn’t read telling Lucien that he changes what he says based on what he knows or what he thinks he knows will strike a nerve with the author.

I guess in a way criticism is not so much of a sacred task as Lucien wants to believe but more of an art form, a creative one at that!; especially in today’s world of moving information.

About Steve Mentz 650 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and early modern literature at St. John's in New York City.

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