TITLE: Trying to Learn from All Critics AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 12, 2007 1:38 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Without having comments enabled on my blog, I miss out on most of the feedback that readers might like to give. It seems like a bigger deal to send an e-mail message with comments. Fortunately for me, a few readers go out of their way to send me comments. Unfortunately for the rest of my readers, those comments don't make it back into the blog the way on-line comments do, and so we all miss out on the sort of conversation that a blog can generate. I think it's time to upgrade my blogging software, I think... Alistair Cockburn recently sent a comment on my entry But Raise Your Hand First that I must share (with Alistair's permission, of course):
Contrary to Weinberg, I use the exact opposite evaluation of a critic's comments: I assume that anybody, however naive and unschooled, has a valid opinion. No matter what they say, how outrageous, how seemingly ill-founded, someone thought it true, and therefore it is my job to examine it from every presupposition, to discover how to improve the <whatever it is>. I couldn't imagine reducing valid criticism to only those who have what I choose to call "credentials". Just among other things, the <whatever it is> improves a lot faster using my test for validity.
This raises an important point. I suspect that Weinberg developed his advice while thinking about one's inner critics, that four-year-old inside our heads. When he expressed it as applying to outer critics, he may well still have been in the mode of protecting the writer from prior censorship. But that's not what he said. I agree with Alistair's idea that we should be open to learning from everyone, which was part of the reason I suggested that students not use this as an opportunity to dismiss critique from professors. When students are receiving more criticism than they are used to, it's too easy to fall into the trap of blaming the messenger rather than considering how to improve. I think that most of us, in most situations, are much better served by adopting the stance, "What can I learn from this?" Alistair said it better. But in the border cases I think that Alistair's position places a heavy and probably unreasonable burden on the writer: "... my job to examine it from every presupposition, to discover how to improve the <whatever it is>." That is a big order. Some criticism is ill-founded, or given with ill will. When it is, the writer is better off to turn her attention to more constructive pursuits. The goal is to make the work better and to become a better writer. Critics who don't start in good faith or who lie too far from the target audience in level of understanding may not be able to help much. -----