criticism

SNIPPET // CS Lewis’ rule for literary criticism

I’m reading a bit of stuff CS Lewis wrote on writing, in this case an essay called On Science Fiction. He has this little gem of a rule buried in the essay.

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“Of articles I have read on the subject [science fiction writing] (and I expect I have missed many) I do not find that I can make any use. For one thing, most were not very well informed. For another, many were by people who clearly hated the kind they wrote about. It is very dangerous to write about a kind you hate. Hatred obscures all distinctions. I don’t like detective stories and therefore all detective stories look very much alike to me: if I wrote about them I should therefore infallibly write drivel. Criticism of kinds as distinct from criticism of works, cannot of course be avoided… But it is, I think, the most subjective and least reliable type of criticism. Above all, it should not masquerade as criticism of individual works. Many reviews are useless because, while purporting to condemn the book, they only reveal the reviewer’s dislike of the kind to which it belongs. Let bad tragedies be censured by those who love tragedy, and bad detective stories by those who love the detective story. Then we shall learn their real faults. Otherwise we shall find epics blamed for not being novels, farces for not being high comedies, novels by James for lacking the swift action of Smollett.

“Who wants to hear a particular claret abused by a fanatical teetotaller, or a particular woman by a confirmed misogynist”

“Even if it is a vice to read science fiction, those who cannot understand the very temptation to that vice will not be likely to tell us anything of value about it. Just as I, for instance, who have no taste for cards, could not find anything very useful to say by way of warning against deep play. They will be like the frigid preaching chastity, misers warning us against prodigality, cowards denouncing rashness.”

“Do not criticise what you have no taste for without great caution. And, above all, do not ever criticise what you simply can’t stand. I will lay all the cards on the table. I have long since discovered my own private phobia: the thing I can’t bear in literature, the thing which makes me profoundly uncomfortable, is the representation of anything like a quasi love affair between two children. It embarrases and nauseates me. But of course I regard this not as a charter to write slashing reviews of books in which the hated theme occurs, but as a warning not to pass judgment on them at all. For my reaction is unreasonable: such child-loves quite certainly occur in real life and I can give no reason why they should not be represented in art… And I would venture to advise all who are attempting to become critics to adopt the same principle. A violent and actually resentful reaction to all books of a certain kind, or to situations of a certain kind, is a danger signal. For I am convinced that good adverse criticism is the most difficult thing we have to do. I would advise everyone to begin it under the most favourable conditions: this is, where you thoroughly know and heartily like the thing the author is trying to do, and have enjoyed many books where it was done well. Then you will have some chance of really showing that he has failed and perhaps even of showing why. But if our real reaction to a book is ‘Ugh! I just can’t bear this sort of thing,’ then I think we shall not be able to diagnose whatever real faults it has. We may labour to conceal our emotion, but we shall end in a welter of emotive, unanalysed, vogue-words — ‘arch,’ ‘facetious,’ bogus,’ adolescent,’ immature,’ and the rest. When we really know what is wrong we need none of these.”

Get a pad: note this social media life lesson from a feminine hygiene company

Warning – if the use of the word “penis” offends you, or the thought of natural bodily functions like “periods” – then don’t read on, though it’s probably too late.

A guy, of course it was a guy, complained to women’s hygiene product maker BodyForm on Facebook because their mystical picture of a happy period didn’t match the reality when he got a girlfriend. His post got more than 90,000 likes.

Here’s what he said:

“Hi , as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years . As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things ,I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding , rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings !! Dam my penis!! Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn’t wait for this joyous adventurous time of the month to happen …..you lied !! There was no joy , no extreme sports , no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack oh no no no. Instead I had to fight against every male urge I had to resist screaming wooaaahhhhh bodddyyyyyyfooorrrmmm bodyformed for youuuuuuu as my lady changed from the loving , gentle, normal skin coloured lady to the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin. Thanks for setting me up for a fall bodyform , you crafty bugger”

Body Form responded.

We loved Richard’s wicked sense of humour. We are always grateful for input from our users, but his comment was particularly poignant. If Facebook had a “love” button, we’d have clicked it. But it doesn’t. So we’ve made Richard a video instead. Unfortunately Bodyform doesn’t have a CEO. But if it did she’d be called Caroline Williams. And she’d say this.

The advertising company behind the this move, Carat, has explained their rationale…

“Yulia Kretova, brand controller for Bodyform said in a statement: “We found Richard’s post very amusing and wanted to continue the positive dialogue around periods that this generated. Working with the brand for five years, breaking down the taboo around Bodyform and periods has always been a challenge, and I hope that we have started to address this. Carat has created an original and uniquely personalized response, brilliantly PR-ed by Myriad, allowing Bodyform to quickly engage in consumer conversations in a meaningful way.””

It’s no secret that social media requires respond to criticism with personality – it’s much easier to do this when the criticism is humourous, because everybody wins – the guy who posted the initial complaint gets some attention and a brief moment of internet celebrity, the company comes off showing a human side, and we all get a laugh. Everybody wins.

It’s harder when the criticism is serious and substantial. Getting tone right is important – you don’t want to mock the people who are concerned about a big issue. And it pays to have developed a voice and personality for your online presence before you get hit with a big complaint, so that people can see you’re being consistent and authentic with your brand, and your dealings with customers, not fake.

Body Form smashed this one out of the park, it gives them something to build on, like Old Spice a few years back.

Probably the most helpful thing I’ve read on developing and maintaining a social media personality is the book Likeable, which I reviewed here, and another book, called Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt – that I’ve been meaning to review for a while. This is useful stuff when it comes to responding as a brand, and interacting with people in a way that wins them, and others, to your cause.

But it doesn’t really help when the criticism is nasty, personal, or just down right wrong. All of these are frustrating. All of them happen on the internet with alarming regularity that leaves you despairing about the corporate human intellect. Treating people like they’re dumb, or responding in kind, is a pretty quick way to lose friends and alienate everybody.

This got me thinking about how I deal with criticism. I’ve been struggling with this in recent days – particularly some of the comments here, but I’ve been struggling with it for much longer – because I’m a creature of pride, with a quick tongue (and fingers, when it comes to typing).

It’s easy to talk about dealing with criticism well online – in my experience it’s incredibly difficult to do, especially when you feel like you’ve been involved in the criticism personally. I tend to write passive aggressive posts here, and try to respond to comments in a gentle way while gritting my teeth and wanting to reach through the screen and throttle the person who has dared to attack me, sometimes the anger and hurt comes through – but this is not the way. Responding with actual love and concern for the person you’re responding to is a better way.

I should keep these Proverbs in mind when I’m responding to people:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger – Proverbs 15:1

A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel- Proverbs 15:18

This bit from James 1…

19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

And this great bit from Romans 12…

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I’ve got to admit – part of me enjoys the idea that by responding in love you make the person who is attacking you feel uncomfortable, and in some way you’ve got to imagine the guy who wrote that post to Bodyform, while enjoying the response, feeling a little uncomfortable with both the attention he received, and the amount of effort the company went to to respond to his joke.

But the ultimate way to respond to criticism, joke or otherwise, is modelled by Jesus while he’s on the cross. Beside criminals – being taunted, having his clothes gambled for, dying (Luke 23:34).

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

I wish I was better at that.

Iron sharpening chalk

Put two or more Christian men in a room together after one of them has just used their gifts to serve the kingdom and its almost inevitable that there’ll be a session of “iron sharpening iron”… it’s biblical.

I think the notion is healthy. But I think at times we can jump straight into thinking of one another as a robust elemental substance. We can forget that it’s person sharpening person – and sometimes assume that our critique is what they want to hear almost immediately. I suspect sometimes we’re geared up to be “iron” and the other person is a little more brittle. Even in designated “critique sessions” we jump straight in as though our criticism is ordained and automatically appropriate. It’s not always the case.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while – just in case anybody who has critiqued me thought I was talking about them. It’s born more out of my own desire to provide “constructive” feedback after every talk I hear.

On my depth

I mentioned in a post a while ago that a dear friend and brother in the Lord suggested that I am “not deep” in a conversation before we left Townsville.

The comment stung, and I have been pondering it since, as deep people are wont to do.

I have come to this conclusion.

It’s not that I’m bad at being deep, I’m just better at being shallow.

I think, reflecting deeply (as capably as I can), this applies to relationships as much as it does to thought.

Furthermore, I wondered if using long and complicated words and explanations would give the appearance of depth. But I don’t think complexity is deep. And I think it’s harder to be clearly understood than it is to be complex. I’m not afraid of complexity – I just prefer the elegance of simplicity.

So there.

That is all.

On preaching with “L” plates

There’s a great article here that’s encouraging to young preachers and to those who seek to critique and encourage them.

I love honest criticism. Particularly constructive or useful criticism. One of our resident drama teachers gave me some tips on non verbal stuff this morning, that was really helpful. Another lady told me I should have included a benediction at the end of the service… oh well… there’s one in every crowd.

The standard “that was good and helpful” line that young preachers get from just about everyone isn’t all that useful – particularly for learners. From the article:

Great preachers are the ones who preach really bad sermons. The difference is that they preach really bad sermons when they’re young, and are sharpened for life by critique.

Mediocre preachers are those who start off with sermons that are, eh, pretty good, but they’re never critiqued and thus never grow.

I know which I’d rather be…

Critic critique

Some of my friends are movie buffs. The annoying and condescendingly superior type. I like them. But they are movie snobs. I imagine I come across the same way when I’m talking about coffee or bagging out U2.

Critics are never happy. Well not until everything is 100% correct. This annoys me in every aspect of life except coffee (and when I’m bagging out U2). I find it particularly annoying when it comes to movies and reading movie reviews. Movies, in my mind (and this touches on the recent Wonderland discussion) are about entertainment and appreciation of execution. Both don’t have to be perfect for me to walk out of a movie feeling like I got my moneys worth. When both are perfect – ala the Godfather 1 – it’s a more satisfying experience obviously… but here are two examples of the problem…

An SMH review of Transformers 2
“Michael Bay thinks that movies are a sandbox and, to some extent, they are. The trick is to create something meaningful from the tools in the sandbox. The first film did that; the second is a sandy imitation.”

Here’s the problem with this review – Transformers is a movie based on a series of action figures. It’s made primarily for an audience of males who like having stuff blown up. By all accounts Transformers 2 has bigger, better explosions with bigger and better fights between the alien robots. Reviews that take plot and stuff like that into account are missing the point. Nobody cares. It’s going to make bucket loads of money.

Point Two is just a continuation of my conversation with Ben… he said that Tim Burton should relinquish some control of his movies in order to produce compelling visual spectacles with nice Burtonesque aesthetics.

I like to think of Tim Burton’s movies as a vehicle for his aesthetics – and I’m happy to enjoy them even if the plot makes no sense. Like in Mars Attacks.

Pick your poison

I preached today. As I mentioned last night. My passage was Matthew 9:35 to 10:23. All about the harvest. I was very careful to to point out that I think the passage refers to a specific group of people being equipped for a specific time – the disciples were called to proclaim the kingdom of God to the nation of Israel. And they were given the ability to heal people and drive out demons – I pointed out that we don’t have that ability.

A helpful soul came up to me afterwards and quoted Mark 16 – which is contentious – because it comes with this disclaimer: “((The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.)) ”

Here’s the quote this helpful soul gave me while suggesting I had it all wrong and we could in fact heal sick people and drive out demons:

17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Again, I’m pretty sure the passage in Mark 16 is directed at the disciples – and you’ll find that in verse 15, that I didn’t quote.

I thought very hard about saying something along the lines of – “well I don’t see you drinking poison and playing with snakes” – but that would not have been loving. So I didn’t. Instead, I blogged it.

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