A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest…Criticism is a matter of flushing out that thought and trying to change it: to show that things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such. Practicing criticism is a matter of making facile gestures difficult.
— M. Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, and Culture, 1988.

When we first thought about publishing (260), we knew we were going to need a shorthand way to explain it. We settled on some version of “cultural criticism for Northeast Indiana” and assumed everyone would know exactly what we meant.

This was not our best assumption.

Although it would take us several years to realize it, pye,brown really got its start in a grad-level rhetorical criticism class. Twenty students with their desks in a circle for three hours once a week, tearing into centuries-old texts from Greek philosophers and decades-old texts from French ones. It’s the liberal arts version of Mr. Miyagi’s “wax on, wax off” lesson – you’re not just learning how to critique, you’re learning how to put together your own arguments that will eventually need to stand up to their own critiques.

If we disagree with something someone wrote hundreds of years ago, there’s not a whole lot we can do to change that person’s mind. (That person is dead.) Our only course of action is to create something new, push it out into the world, and wait for the critics… or crickets. And trust us, the crickets are worse.

Of course, someone shuffling off the mortal coil isn’t the only obstacle to changing ideas you disagree with. For instance, someone might want to challenge claims made by people with better funding, more resources and a bigger audience. One of our favorite ongoing examples of this sort of “punching up” criticism is @dick_florida.

A (slight) parody of “Champion of the Creative Class” Richard Florida, @dick_florida represents the idea that creativity, gentrification, and liberalism will save us all, taken to its logical conclusion.

Real-Life Richard Florida probably doesn’t even know this parody of him exists. (Although, if anyone in the world has a Google Alert for their own name, Richard Florida does.) That’s not really the point, though, and we don’t think @dick_florida is really aimed at Richard Florida.

For people who find Richard Florida problematic, stumbling across @dick_florida is a great reminder that there are other people out there who share your viewpoint. If you’re worried that everyone drank the Kool-Aid, @dick_florida’s critique is a 140-character hug saying, “Nope. You’re not alone.” And if you did drink the Kool-Aid, it’s a 140-character slap in the face saying, “Really? Are you sure about this guy?”

For us, and for @dick_florida, criticism comes easily and naturally. So much so, that it’s become our go-to. We assume the role of the critic so often that it’s become routine. To borrow from Foucault, it’s become a “facile gesture.” We need to make it difficult. But there’s a second motivation for wanting to critique criticism. We’ve always thought that speaking out and challenging the status quo, (especially in the face of opponents who have more funding, more bodies, and more billboards counted as “doing something.” We’ve learned that not everyone shares that viewpoint.

For these reasons, we decided to turn Issue Two of (260) over to anyone who wanted to critique the critics (which is kind of like “watching the detectives” but with less of a reggae beat). So, we asked: Who is the critic? What is critique? Is criticism inherently negative? Does the act of criticism count as “doing something”?

We were fortunate to have a number of great responses that both show and tell us what criticism means and looks like. Jonah’s piece explores criticism in the context of film. Katie’s piece looks at a group of friends united through the act of criticism (and cocktails). Erica’s poetry is marked by the criticism of a mentor, and Chris imagines a world without the critical voice. While each of these pieces comes at the topic from a different angle, one thing unites them they make us think about the world a little bit differently.

And isn’t that what good criticism is all about?

We certainly think so.

(260) Issue Two: The Critic features writing from Jonah Crismore, Erica Anderson-Senter, Katie Pruitt, and Chris Ashton. Order your copy today.

Back to (260): The Critic.