Commonplace

There is a kind of counter-criticism that seeks to expand the work of art, by connecting it, opening up its meanings, inviting in the possibilities. A great work of criticism can liberate a work of art, to be seen fully, to remain alive, to engage in a conversation that will not ever end but will instead keep feeding the imagination. Not against interpretation, but against confinement, against the killing of the spirit. Such criticism is itself great art.

This is a kind of criticism that does not pit the critic against the text, does not seek authority. It seeks instead to travel with the work and its ideas, to invite it to blossom and invite others into a conversation that might have previously seemed impenetrable, to draw out relationships that might have been unseen and open doors that might have been locked. This is a kind of criticism that respects the essential mystery of a work of art, which is in part its beauty and its pleasure, both of which are irreducible and subjective. The worst criticism seeks to have the last word and leave the rest of us in silence; the best opens up an exchange that need never end.”

Rebecca Solnit, “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable,” Men Explain Things to Me (2014)

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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2 Responses to Commonplace

  1. There are about a dozen scaly doors in certain Departments of English where I will need to print this quote, banner-sized, and tack it with the surest Gorilla Glue so that each day those vaunted guardsmen of Il Palacio di Poesia will read these words and be mindful of their true and solemn charge.

  2. I love this. What a wonderful approach. I am reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist right now, and it seems to me that she does exactly what Rebecca Solnit is describing. Thanks, QB.

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