Hi Rae– I was wondering if there is any way to get the word out that my column, “_____”, is up for the grand prize on McSweeney’s. I’d appreciate any help/ideas.
Thank you for your inquiry. I do know that McSweeney‘s Column Contest is running again. Some excellent columns. My favorite is “Tractors Drive Themselves: One Man’s Return to the Farm” by Matthew James. I like James’ statement on economy and the Everyman/woman’s return to childlike status. I, for one, can commiserate. I also like his subtle humor. I’ve not read any of James’ work prior, but I will read more of it now.
In the nineteen-seventies, when I was a teen-ager and had fantasies of growing up to be a writer, I didn’t dream of being a novelist or a poet. I wanted to be a critic. I thought criticism was exciting, and I found critics admirable. This was because I learned from them. Every week a copy of The New Yorker would arrive at our house on Long Island, wrapped in a brown wrapper upon which the (I thought) disingenuously modest label NEWSPAPERwas printed, and I would hijack the issue before my dad came home from work in order to continue an education that was, then, more important to me than the one I was getting in school…. By dramatizing their own thinking on the page, by revealing the basis of their judgments and letting you glimpse the mechanisms by which they exercised their (individual, personal, quirky) taste, all these critics were, necessarily, implying that you could arrive at your own, quite different judgments — that a given work could operate on your own sensibility in a different way. What I was really learning from those critics each week was how to think. How to think (we use the term so often that we barely realize what we’re saying) critically — which is to say, how to think like a critic, how to judge things for myself. To think is to make judgments based on knowledge: period.
For all criticism is based on that equation: KNOWLEDGE + TASTE = MEANINGFUL JUDGMENT. The key word here is meaningful. People who have strong reactions to a work — and most of us do — but don’t possess the wider erudition that can give an opinion heft, are not critics. (This is why a great deal of online reviewing by readers isn’t criticism proper.) Nor are those who have tremendous erudition but lack the taste or temperament that could give their judgment authority in the eyes of other people, people who are not experts. (This is why so many academic scholars are no good at reviewing for mainstream audiences.) Like any other kind of writing, criticism is a genre that one has to have a knack for, and the people who have a knack for it are those whose knowledge intersects interestingly and persuasively with their taste. In the end, the critic is someone who, when his knowledge, operated on by his taste in the presence of some new example of the genre he’s interested in — a new TV series, a movie, an opera or ballet or book — hungers to make sense of that new thing, to analyze it, interpret it, make it mean something.Finish reading the essay at A Critic’s Manifesto…
TRACTORS DRIVE THEMSELVES: ONE MAN’S RETURN TO THE FARMby Matthew James
“…This summer, I moved back to the farm where I grew up. I am a laid-off newspaper columnist who lives in his childhood room and that should probably be embarrassing but it isn’t. Every day is bring-your-kid-to-work day and I’m the kid. I’m hitting things with hammers. I have cracks in my fingers and those cracks have motor oil stains in them. For the last dozen years I’ve been paid to think of things and type them into stories. What a gig, huh? I was paid to talk to interesting people, paid to bounce around the country, paid to hike through California, paid to fly with the Blue Angels, paid to watch college football games with 50,000 folks who considered it the highlight of their week to be doing exactly what I was doing. It was great. It felt easy. Manual labor is exhilarating in an entirely different way. It’s refreshing, creek water to the face, birthday cake at the end of an Atkins Diet….” Vote here