Monday, July 15, 2013

I, the literary critic

When I came into blogging I thought of it as an arena where people could self-publish without having anyone filter out content based on perceived literary merit. Just made for me, considering that I could well have stayed on the dirty end of any such filter. Much later I realized that you could also criticize published books and there would be no-one filtering out your criticism as being ignorant or plain idiotic. There are a lot of people around even in blogosphere whose criticism is respected but past experience has made me feel that it was unlikely that I be counted among them.

Mind you, my criticism is always valid and deeply insightful. What I was worrying about was the petty-minded people who would end up criticizing the criticism. I mean how stupid can they get? When I criticized Rowling's and Tolkien's output saying, "Full of magic and other such unbelievable stuff" they were crazy enough to claim that it was fantasy and was expected to be full of magic and other such crap. Some people will say anything to defend themselves against valid criticism. I mean, there was even a guy who said that a critic ought to be commenting about whether or not the author narrated effectively the story that he wanted to tell rather than telling the author what sort of story the critic would have preferred to read. That fool did not even know that criticism should not be criticized!

If that were all there was I could have merrily continued in my critical ways. Unfortunately, people do not even have an idea about character consistency. When I made comments about characters acting unnaturally, they claim that everyone in the world cannot behave in the same way. Why, they even went so far as to say that had I been criticizing the Mahabharat I would have said, "Ved Vyas did not pay attention to his characters. He portrays Yudhishtir as a righteous person and then writes an incident where Yudhishtir stakes his wife in a dice game. Inconsistent characterization mars the story". Of course I would have. So what if it is an epic? Had I been the editor, I would never have published that book without asking Mr. Vyas for extensive re-edits and would have turned a deaf ear to all his pleas that characters act abnormally in stress situations.

But what really takes the cake is that people do not even accept the obvious problem inherent in ending a story properly. When a couple have marital problems and end up trying to resolve them by themselves where is the drama in that? After all, it is expected that the couple have to resort to resolve it eventually by themselves so where is the fun in reading about that? Now if you had a carload of people with a barrel-load of vodka sloshing in their veins and a truck-load of problems in their heads teetering over the edge of a construction pit and if God talked to them and solved their problems, that is drama ! I know there is always some idiot somewhere who will claim that I am confusing drama and melodrama but then I do not care for the opinions of people who do not even know that criticism cannot be criticized.

Those were all in the bad old days when my criticism was only vocal and people felt free to give me the horse's laugh. Now that I have my blog, a license to criticize books and there is no-one around to question my credentials, I am free to give the world of literature the benefit of my insight. As, indeed, you would have noticed my doing over the recent past.

If an author thinks that he can get away by writing exactly the expected sort of story with characters behaving on expected lines and dramatic endings, he is sorely mistaken. I would only have to say, "The tale seems written to suit the market and lacks soul. The characters are monochrome and the striving to create a dramatic twist has rendered the ending unbelievable". After all, I am not one of those critics who shies away from voicing negative criticism.

With such an insightful person around, it is a wonder that authors do not take my advice while writing their books. Just goes to show how little they know about the art of writing.

28 comments:

  1. I'm curious what triggered this post suddenly Suresh :) ?

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    1. Simple Naba - I could not think of anything else and since I was doing too many book reviews this popped out :)

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  2. Literary Criticism, Tolkein, Character Consistency, Art of Writing - just some of the words that are as essential to understand as they are absent from the world of blogging, sadly. It's a delight to know there are some who think on these lines. This post should be pinned on the home-page of IndiBlogger, for "After all, I am not one of those critics who shies away from voicing negative criticism."

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    1. I think I need to know a lot more about the art of writing before I can write legitimate and useful criticism.

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  3. Nice, Suresh. Of course this is not new to me. You have been telling me this along. Now we have it as a post.

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    1. Suddenly found post ideas had dried up - out of practice, I suppose :) So decided to put this one up :)

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  4. You took on a vast subject, Suresh. Literary Criticism is good to talk about and hard to practice. For many, the very word criticism is German.

    A nice read.

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    1. I would like my criticism to reflect more than merely my personal tastes - trying to make it so.

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  5. And to think i was finally understanding your old post about refraining from criticism, never the less ill keep in mind before writing a story, and will first show you the draft.. :p

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    1. That was only abt criticism on blogs - that resides in the comments section of someone else's blog, this is a post on my blog :)

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    2. Still im going to thrust my story under your nose...and ask for criticism.. :p

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    3. If you ask for it what can I do? :)

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  6. Can't help but recall Disraeli's quote - “How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.”

    And I am becoming a huge fan of your understated sense of humour!

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  7. It is a tough job writing anything these days. Yes, everyone criticizes everyone else's work. I wonder what an author must do. Write as per popular expectations, what sells or what he/she wants to say.

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    1. With critics like me around it is a tough ask :)

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  8. Loved your sarcastic and cynical take on criticism, especially the example of drama that you have narrated. Enjoyed reading this post..

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    1. Good to see you again, Vinita.

      Sarcastic? Cynical? ME??? I am just a sweet guy :)

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  9. I am so happy i have not written any book-------------so far.

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    1. I am trying to improve, Indu! I'll let you know once I do :)

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  10. These pesky writers, I tell you! Why can't they just write what is right so that the critic wouldn't need to part with copious amounts of blood and toil righting their wrongs!
    Jokes apart, there are critics and then there are critics. I would prefer your kind any day!

    Great post, as always!

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  11. Critics in any field are somehow projected in a negative light Suresh .it's like they are people who think way different from what the world likes . Guess the literary world is no exception . And poor old Ved Vyas hi hi

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    1. Ah! Jaish! If a critic actually thinks differently from the rest of the world in the field of arts, his criticism is worthless. A critic has to be able to help the artist to communicate his conception better to the audience - and his criticism, however bitter, is something the artist needs to heed and respect.

      The problem, however, is that amateur critics like myself (not all amateur critics, mind, only those like me who delude themselves into thinking that they can be critics :) ) end up giving critiques which bridge the gap between the author and our own reading tastes without regard to a whole gamut of people out there who may vibe with the artist's own work :)

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  12. Suresh ji , I may not be the right person to comment as you know how much I love books :D however , I feel , I still need to poke my nose here .. as you talked about criticism... I dont know if you would agree but I feel ours is a narrow minded society and criticism can be hated to the level that .. websites are forced to shut down and critics are forced to cop stations(Ambika Mahapatra for lampooning Didi..& Aseem Trivedi ) ... one needs to be politically correct.What happened in Jaipur L Festival is an act of not accepting criticism and making a grave of it.as you know I try to make sense of shapes with bubble speeches .. I know they are far below the standards of being called perfect political cartoons - cartoon is what should have minimal words .. but i need to be politically correct .. I cannot expect all my readers to be politically updated.. What I do is .. pack my toons with dialogues(after all even I want to be Chetan Bhagat in cartooning;) ) .. 2ndly .. i wish I could show you some hate mails, I get,for drawing against popular netajis .. I apologize and even make changes .. if need be .. just to be politically correct ..
    Criticism in general is healthy .. and one can differentiate .. which one is healthy in itself and which should be flushed-off .. but when criticism is considered rebel.. what suffers the most is Right To Speech !!

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    1. Hmm! So you too have problems with certain types of literary criticism :)

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    2. hahha optimism teaches to take threatening mail as harsh criticism and improvise by being politically correct and dodging sharks who you may be poking :D

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