October 10, 2012
Synaesthesis: C.S. Lewis, on literary criticism

You and I might condemn a passage in a book for being ‘laboured’. Do we mean by this that it sounds laboured? Or are we advancing the theory that it was in fact laboured? … If we mean the second, notice that we are ceasing to write criticism. Instead of pointing out the faults in the passage we…

Some smart stuff from C.S. Lewis and R.J. Anderson both on literary criticism.

Criticism’s great, but there are reasons you can’t use some criticism despite your best efforts to think about it and turn it toward Making Your Book Better, and reasons it sometimes drives me UP THE WALL mental.

(Today it was someone being like, the dialogue of this book, too smart and funny.

… Oh dear… I meant it to be both… and saying teenagers can’t be smart and funny is a huge insult to teenagers. 

However, of course in books we can come up with the right thing at the right moment, rather than twenty minutes later, just like in books the seemingly random events are plot-relevant and hardly anybody needs to go to the bathroom. And there are levels of what people like, and that is fine.

… But you see how it might drive you mad.)

I like what C.S. Lewis is saying here because he’s talking about how criticism can help you, if it tells you certain stuff, if it tells you how it came to its critical conclusions, and in other cases can just be mystifying. (Any speculation on how the writer was feeling while writing is always wrong.

… Unless the critic is living in your walls and watching you.

*runs around suspiciously tapping on walls*)

Sometimes reading criticism is like detective work, and you have to puzzle out the meanings. Sometimes you have to toss criticism over your shoulder like salt. (Too smart and funny? Think I’ll keep doing it…)

Sometimes criticism is based on stuff nobody can control, like the writer being a guy, or the protagonist being a girl: http://ladybusiness.dreamwidth.org/38016.html

(Well, I guess writers can control the gender of the protagonist, but who wants to sit around and be like ‘I’d like to win an award. Better write about a dude!’)

There are a million reasons, including my delicate fee-fees of course, that criticism is hard to think about. But it’s worth detecting criticism, because the one time out of a hundred you get something that you can apply going forward means being a better writer, and that’s always worth working on.

  1. katsprad reblogged this from michellehodkin
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  5. michellehodkin reblogged this from sarahreesbrennan and added:
    Smart words from smart people. I have nothing to add except to say that my favorite meditations on the subject are here...
  6. sarahreesbrennan reblogged this from rj-anderson and added:
    Some smart stuff from C.S. Lewis and R.J. Anderson both on literary criticism. Criticism’s great, but there are reasons...
  7. rj-anderson posted this