Don’t call me a critic – I’m an analyst!

I have a confession. I have never, ever, liked the idea of being a critic. It’s one of those weird, little hang-ups people get over time, they hear a word, they put an image to it, and their nose scrunches up as they say, “ewwwwwwwwwww.” For me, critic has always been synonymous with someone who bleeds everything enjoyable out of whatever they’re critiquing and destroys something rather than adding anything worthwhile to it.

Is this fair? of course it’s not. There are a tremendous number of very good critics who truly do add something to the work they’re looking at, who are a treat to read, and who don’t thoroughly kill the joy from whatever their eyes fall upon.  I’ve read a number of critics that I enjoy, I have friends in the field who I believe do an unbelievably thorough, engaging and, yes, even entertaining job at working through their critiques.

Still…that image remains. Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

Then I ran across a line in the book I’m using in my 7 week short story course this winter. The book is How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, and it is a book I wish I had came across years ago. If any instructors happen by this page, I fully endorse this book as an entry level reader for getting undergrads into the mode of reading and criticizing literature. It’s not only thorough, but accessible! Also, it’s cheap, so they won’t hate you for making them blow $80 on a book they’ll never use again.

But back to the line I ran across. It’s been a few days, so I can’t pinpoint where it was exactly, but Foster was talking about criticism in general when he makes a reference to deconstruction, a form he clearly isn’t a big fan of, and which he responds to by saying, “I prefer to enjoy what I analyze.”

And there was the golden word. Analyze. Not only does it have pleasant connotations with some entirely forgettable Robert DeNiro-Billy Crystal movies, but it’s also associated with the American all-positive view of business. Stock analysts. News analysts. Business analysts. Analysts, analysts, analysts. We love them. We embrace them. They are all cute and cuddly like Glen Beck at a gun rally.

And so it struck me. I’m not a critic. I don’t criticize. I don’t do quick 900 or so word critiques of novels and short stories, I do short 900 or so word analysis’s of stories. Suddenly, I feel cuter. Cuddlier. I’m okay with the idea of what I do around here -at times, anyway. Also, I feel like a more productive member of society. After all, a critic only criticizes. An analyst is in the trenches, examining trends and making flow charts. They get things done. So universities should be more willing to better fund their literature departments if a move towards re-categorizing ourselves becomes vogue. We’re not longer sitting on the sidelines, criticizing everything, we’re helping out. We’re analyzing.

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