[-empyre-] Towards [no] theory of digital poetics

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Mon Mar 16 11:24:28 EST 2009

In response to Alan and Juan's exchange:

Criticism does accomplish a number of things...

1) For artists, the work of critics can provide challenges to work
against or models to strive for.  Whether or not they are "valid,"
some of these strange critical flourishes are useful, especially if
treated as axioms (to touch on what Jim pointed out).

2) Criticism, while it does weigh down the work of art, serves a
practical purpose for the field in the sense that it is a sign of an
engaged readership, willing to take works into serious consideration
(and have really long-running debates about all the old literary
questions as well as some new ones.)

3)  Criticism can go a ways towards explaining what and why
non-readers should become readers.  In my opinion, much criticism
tends to be insular, formalist, and directed exclusively toward the
community of critics and artists, but it doesn't have to be.  I know
from my own experience that I can get too wrapped up in theory that
references more theory (and I apologize), but criticism doesn't have
to be this way.  Criticism can serve to question a piece's social
relevance, which isn't everything, but it is an important thing.

4) Criticism maintains the literary framework.  I'm sure a lot of
people don't like this idea.  But I think it is important to have this
category of things called "Literature" which we can use to sequester
an object for a particular set of operations and diagnostics.  It
doesn't have to stay in this simulated environment forever, but for a
period of time it lets people explore a particular object of desire
through a filter, or genre of cognition.  It's like taking your
partner to the fantasy suites for the weekend, and see what it would
be like if we were pirates.  Except in this case, we are playing at
reading literature.

Having said all that, I do wonder about the role of artist as
theorist, and theorist as artist.  Philosophy tends to be obsessed
with trying to nail down definitions of things, while also professing
a certain amount of skepticism about those ideas that you are
personally attached to.  Art, on the other hand, seems to be about
actualizing some idea that is put forward by the artist, while being
disloyal to the formal restrictions placed around art.  (Although
there are "theories" which really seem like art, and there is "art"
that is really just a theory.)  So, theory and practice lack each
other.  Which doesn't mean that they are separate, rather they are in
dynamic tension, and that it is a singular moment when the point of
synthesis comes, is recognized, achieved, passes, or however you'd
want to describe that moment.  And, that moment is probably going to
be one of those sublime, uncanny things, that is as familiar as it is

To look on the bright side.  I have read a great deal of criticism,
both professional and amateur, on Frankenstein.  I make my students
write a paper on it every other year.  (I have probably read the book
12-14 times).  But each time I read, no matter how much criticism I
carry around in my head, it always has something new for me.  And, I'm
quite certain that without all that criticism, I probably wouldn't
keep reading it.


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