"Time to get back to building the database of my dreams." - aneurin, May 11, 2005

Sketches Toward a Theory of Criticism

1. What is the noder trying to do?

Why is this node in existence, what is its author telling us? Most great writeups on Everything2 seek to inform and amuse, or give food for thought. My personal idea of the perfect node is this: a relevant subject, concisely rendered. Heavier than an amuse bouche; lighter than a suckling pig. I believe that what separates E2 from other similar sites is insight, and synthesis. While other sites strive to tell you when a man was born and when he died, we try to tell you why he lived.

2. How well do they succeed at this?

What are the obvious glaring failures of the write-up? What parts of it are spun gold? This includes the nuts and bolts, the style and grammar considerations. But it also includes the formatting, the choice of information, the language. If I had been standing over the shoulder of the author of the Anthony Trollope write-up, I would have asked them to include a note about his working habits. Every day, before he went to work at the post office, Trollope would write a certain number of pages. If he came to the end of one book, he would start the first few pages of the next in order to meet his quota. As is the write-up is concise, well written, but I can't help seeing a perfect spot where that anecdote would fit.

3. What order of relevance is it?

Imagine that there was to be a major site purge, and only a small portion of the nodes would remain. What would you grab if Everything2 was burning down? Those nodes are the first order of relevance. The second order of relevance are things you might take the time to grab if the house two doors down was going up. What order do you think the writeup in question would be? Top 10%? Bottom 20%?

Yes, everything should be that: everything. It should, in theory, include everything that ever existed. If the coders could freeze time and chain us all to our computers, set us all to God mode and give us infinite lives, we might acheive that before heat death. But since we cannot, I think it is more important to focus on the things that are vital.

If you have any background in literary criticism, you will realize that three part criteria is modified from the work of Matthew Arnold (his third question was "Does the work have "high seriousness?"). Matthew Arnold, besides having the most awesome sideburns in all of literary history, redefined criticism in his own era. Before him, English criticism was run by the theory of you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours. Arnold believed that the purpose of criticism was to elevate the greatest pieces of art and make the public aware of them.


1. What is the noder trying to do?

The author of Sketches Toward a Theory of Criticism makes an attempt toward applying critical standards to web-based writing. He is proposing the same type of rigor to voluntary submissions as one does to published work.

2. How well do they succeed at this?

The author's flaw is assuming they are the same animal. He speaks of established literary criticism as if it is a paragon of virtue, unfettered from favoritism. It is not, and furthermore, it is subject to something much more dangerous: the overshadowing of the original text by the criticism. Academics spend countless hours attempting to parse each phrase and motif and symbol from a work that it ceases to be enjoyable and becomes pure drudgery.

Notice the use of the quote at the beginning, an attempt to curry favor by quoting an established and well-liked noder. Shameless. His suggestion of orders of relevance has the very real potential to become an excuse to excise unpopular writing from the database; he does not even acknowledge that there are some factual write-ups that may be uninteresting to the majority of readers (such as science or mathematics treatments) that are vital to the lifeblood of any extensive collection of human knowledge. He offers no plans for implementation, but uses his bullhorn to blindly call for change.

3. What order of relevance is it?

If nothing comes about from the theories put forth, very low. However, if the writer succeeds in changing the consciousness of the userbase, the essay will be an important historical document. Only time will tell.

Text Comments




What you don't understand
is that literay criticism in
the country is dead, d00d.
Get a clue.


Good ideas.

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