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Eric: Yeah, there's no way anyone could find fault with this essay. None whatsoever. La la la....

Starslip Crisis

(From Starslip Crisis! Click on the thumbnail for full sized ethical quandry!)

I occasionally get asked why I like Kris Straub's work so much. After all, I seem to embrace many of the things he attacks. I have respect -- nay, reverence -- for academia. I work in and espouse the critical discourse. I yearn for the day a Freshman cheats on an essay by copy and pasting chunks of one of my own critical essays without attribution. And, of course, I'm pretentious as fuck.

Why, these folks asked, aren't I offended at Straub? Why do I enjoy Modern Humor Authority so much? Why do I laugh when Straub implies I've married a dictionary? Don't I get it? Don't I get he's the enemy?

And then we have a strip like today's -- a strip I humbly offer up in explanation. Because Straub isn't the enemy. Straub's one of the best friends we've got.

In academic and critical pursuits, there is going to be some mind-numbing navel gazing. That's the nature of the beast. However, there is still a difference between active critical discourse and an academic discourse so insular it borders on incestuous. Criticism should engage the reader, whether they're a Ph.D. candidate or some guy who showed up to get out of the rain. It should excite the reader, by exposing them to possibilities that they might not have considered. Done right, it makes a person rethink how they've looked at a particular work -- or how they look at art or fiction or creativity in general. Done right, it doesn't exclude anyone.

Done wrong, it becomes turgid and self-important, using unexplained jargon and obscure reference like a lodge pin to keep the hoi polloi at bay while the important people are talking. Or, alternately, makes it clear that Harold Bloom is insane.

That's where Straub comes in. I don't think Straub has any issue with critical discourse. I think it bothers him when discourse becomes inaccessible. I think it bothers him when he reads an essay and thinks "who has this been written for? A wide audience? A narrow audience? Or just the critic himself, to prove how smart he is?" And I know it offends him when criticism becomes so self-important that it places itself above the art it's interpreting in the hierarchy of creation.

And, because he's a satirist, he responds to his discomfort and offense by being funny.

Look at today's strip. It's all about self-importance. The debate about what's "Indie," of course -- on one level it addresses the ridiculously overblown attitudes of some hipsters towards their music. It's ground R. Stevens and Jeph Jacques have mined for some time, but there's still plenty of ore to be found, there. But it's also about that brand of academic who wouldn't dare take a work out of its context. Dear Lord, boy. It's vitally important we unearth these artifacts of the Indie, but we dare not offend those tragic artistic figures of our past by making them ironic through collection. That would be a worse crime than never finding them in the first place!

Is it over the top? Sure. But not by much. I've had people (male people, as it turns out) tell me with a perfectly straight face that I have no business writing a paper about Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" because it would be disrespectful for a man to critique an essay on feminine creativity. I presented a paper at a conference once that discussed Shakespeare and 'the play within a play.' This is the Literature Studies equivalent of the single lutz -- if you can't twirl around a single time and land on your skates, you have no business being in competition. And I had one of the professors who attended react with utter disdain because I actually drew off my theatrical background and incorporated drama theory into the paper. This was a literary discussion about a literary work. Apparently he thought the script format and stage directions were some kind of bizarre literary style.

(In his defense, he taught on Prince Edward Island. There's only so many Anne of Green Gables references you can hear in your day to day life before your mind drives to insanity as a defensive measure.)

Now, it's too late for Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf. No amount of pointing and laughing will puncture the ineffable field of ego that surrounds offenders in those disciplines. But in our neck of the woods, it's not only good that Straub's pointing and laughing, it's absolutely necessary. Taking ourselves too seriously is way too dangerous. The best way we can inoculate ourselves against that is to have someone make fun of us when we do it.

Put another way... if you get offended -- I mean, really offended -- at Kris Straub... then yes, he is actually talking about you. Smile and wave. It'll be better, that way.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 7, 2006 10:21 AM

Comments

Comment from: Mr Myth [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 11:22 AM

It's interesting, cause one of the criticisms tossed out of the webcomic world is that it's 'amateur hour' - not just the artists, but the people discussing them.

But at the same time, I imagine that the fact that a lot of the bloggers talking about webcomics are just regular joes makes their work that much more accessible for discussion, rather than coming off as a literary thesis.

Which isn't to say that the lack of critical theory is in and of itself a benefit - but the fact that the community is one of fans, rather than one of scholars, is I think what allows for a lot of the discussion to thrive amongst a general audience.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 11:28 AM

Kris is almost always funny.

That said, he is trying to do the very thing he spends so much time railing against: reshape the "webcomics world" into what he wants "it" to be, as opposed to what "it" actually is. In that respect he's really not much different from the navel-gazers.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 11:44 AM

I dunno, I could take or leave Kris's work. Though I *am* a self-important critic and would-be academian (but one with no inner drive, given that I'm quite satisfied with my bachelor's), I don't really take any offense either. This might just mean that I'm not part of the audience, either in favor of in would-be recipient of his jabs.

Aside from all that, though, we do need people like Kris. Academia, particularly of late, has gotten this intense desire to write for an increasingly small audience, and similarly focus on obscure subjects that very few care about. In a quest to prove its own superiority, it's actually writing and teaching itself into extinction.

So while I'm not particularly fond of CxN or Starslip Crisis, I'm all for their continued existence. As they both point out, one of the gravest mistakes a person can make is to claim they're not foolish.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 11:59 AM

unexplained jargon and obscure reference like a lodge pin to keep the hoi polloi at bay

Deliberate? I know what stuff means in the context, but it's interesting to hit up Google and look for word roots...

French litcrit on Woolf? Argh. Showalter for teh win.

Comment from: Tim Tylor [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 12:04 PM

Now, it's too late for Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf. No amount of pointing and laughing will puncture the ineffable field of ego that surrounds offenders in those disciplines.

I'd say that the more egopuffed, sclerotic and silly a discipline becomes, the more vulnerable it is to accurate ridicule. The students will listen, even if the incumbent profs stick their fingers in their ears and humm.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 12:13 PM

Oh, first, forgot to ask - do we get to have a fun adverb to work with "insane" for Harold Bloom? I mean, "batshit" is generally a popular one there, but we already have Dave Sim and a particular Florida-based attorney duelling over the rights to that one. Can I suggest "off-the-rails insane"? Do we have any other nominees?

And please, let's not get into French litcrit on Woolf. Partly because I was never fond of stream of consciousness, and partly because you're about to give me flashbacks of discussions of Huit Clos and Regis Debray.

In the end, I think Tristan Tzara and the Dadaists might have a good point in saying that humanity doesn't deserve art. We just tend to muck it all up when we do somehow make it.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 12:13 PM

The electronic communication revolution is blurring and redefining the difference between amateur and creator or amateur and scholar already. If academia as we know it is declining anyway, it's only making way in the societal ecological niche for what we may call popular academia inevitably to grow into its place. For good or ill, we may be on the road to a day when both creators and critics must have accessibility - literally and literarily - as well as ideas.

HE TORE HIS FACE OFF.

Comment from: PatMan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 12:55 PM

I cracked up. I also cracked up yesterday. Go Straub, go!

Comment from: Abby L. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 1:09 PM

I immediately fell in love with Kris' work when I finally read it a bit ago. I think I came to it at the right time, when I was both involved in webcomics enough to get the Checkerboard Nightmare jokes, and in college, working in security for the art gallery, around so many people exactly like Vanderbeam. The humor is laser-targeted... TO MY FACE.

It's refreshing to see such an apt criticism of pretension when you're surrounded with it every day. It almost makes it a little more bearable.

Comment from: Botswana [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 1:16 PM

I just don't see the point to self-important blather. I love the constant shots that Straub takes at the kind of people who spend their time trying to feel important, as though presenting themselves as an intellectual makes them smart.

As I like to say, I'd rather be intelligent than an intellectual. I'd much rather read an enthusiastic essay by someone who truly loves the subject matter rather than a pompous jerk who obviously loves only themselves.

Comment from: Ray Radlein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 1:23 PM

Oh, first, forgot to ask - do we get to have a fun adverb to work with "insane" for Harold Bloom? I mean, "batshit" is generally a popular one there, but we already have Dave Sim and a particular Florida-based attorney duelling over the rights to that one. Can I suggest "off-the-rails insane"? Do we have any other nominees?

"Blooming"

Comment from: Rothul [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 1:51 PM

I don't know... somehow I lost track of Starslip Crisis. Even though I read it everyday, some how I lost track of what was going on, and I wasn't really finding it funny enough to go back and archive trawl. It's really sad because Chex was always so great to me.... I dunno, maybe I need another run at it.

Comment from: Michigander [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 1:55 PM

Hi, Eric:

My name is Ian. I'm a long-time reader, first-time poster. I have some concerns about the claims you make in your post. Think of this as a response from the academy (I'm a Ph.D. student in Philosophy).

1. Your exhortation for critical discourse to engage everyone from Ph.D. candidates to the "guy who showed up to get out of the rain" is a nice sentiment, but I don't think it's coherent. Discourse that appeals to specialists in the field will contain jargon, because they've spent years becoming familiar with the field. So the "obscure references" are rather common ground that can be presupposed by people who have reached a certain level of competence with the material. This is not always the case; some jargon strikes me as opaque and meaningless as well. But we're supposed to be interpreters, after all, and very rarely is even someone like Derrida completely meaningless if you give it some thought. By comparison, non-specialists will prefer popularized material because it is accessible. This is also an admirable and necessary critical experience. My point is that you have different demographics and different expectations.

Now, of course, this isn't some kind of two-tiered class system. I actually think that academic prose is very accessible for anyone willing to put in a little thought, and specialists could benefit from reading some amateur forays into their discipline. Culture is far too complex to capture in some sort of facile academic/hoi polloi distinction. Still, your "active critical discourse" (which I am tempted to call a piece of unexplained jargon) would, I think, merely alienate both demographics insofar as it did not collapse into the kind of discourse that appeals to one or the other.

Nor do I think your way of separating bad critical discourse from good (i.e. in terms of "exposing people to possibilities") proves your point in the least. I've read professional criticism on Shakespeare's Winter's Tale that opened up a ton of possibilities to me. Good and bad, by this criteria, are to be found on both sides of your imaginary academic/hoi polloi divide, so I am not sure what your definition accomplishes.

2. I am puzzled as to where "our neck of the woods" is supposed to be. You write that the egos of academic practitioners are too thick to pierce with satire. At least, that's how I interpret the second-to-last paragraph of your post, the first two sentences of which are quite opaque (are Shakespeare and Wolff the big egos? Are the "offenders" the satirists or the academics?).

So I assume that "our neck of the woods" are the smart non-specialists who are building up a new genre of criticism. But the comic was not about bursting those bubbles, nor did your post mention anything about it. You emphasize the danger of "taking ourselves too seriously," but "ourselves" don't seem to be the target in either the comic or in your post. Indeed, the satire seems directed at the amorphous blob of self-important academia. So your claim seems to amount to something like: it's important for us to make fun of academics. But read that way, the last two paragraphs of your post make no sense. I'd appreciate some clarification.

3. One of the examples you adduce in support of your academia-is-up-its-own-ass thesis has me puzzled. I'm talking about your shakespeare paper example. First of all, there are ways to "draw off your theater background" that do merit disdain in an academic discussion. Example: "Well, when I was Hamlet in the Bumfuck local theater production, my director told me that he was x,y and z." Not a propos. And you are vague about how exactly you "drew off your background," so I cannot evaluate his reaction. Result: it does not support your point.

Second, I'm unclear about the import of your references to script format and stage directions. Interpreted one way, you just don't understand how to write an academic paper, which I'm sure isn't true. So what lesson am I supposed to draw from that?

I hope I haven't bored you. Respond if you like, and take care.

Ian

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 2:11 PM

My biggest beef with H. Bloom is that I needed to actually learn the first name of Benjamin Bloom, so when I talk about his taxonomy of learning in mixed company I don't instantly draw down the Harold Bloom Floating Flamewar. :) I once spent several minutes of very bizarre conversation because everyone else was thinking Harold Bloom, who I'd never heard of, and I was talking Ben Bloom, who they'd never heard of.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 2:29 PM

Deliberate? I know what stuff means in the context, but it's interesting to hit up Google and look for word roots...

Heck, I'm Greek and I had to Google that last one. Damned semi-phonetic transliteral spelling.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 2:57 PM

Well, first off, I'd really like to know how you could say that Eric's idea that critical discourse should engage everyone is not coherent. You might disagree with the basis of his belief, but if you accept his basis as true (and I personally think he understated it, myself), then his idea is perfectly coherent.

Second, to some extent, jargon is very good. Jargon functions as words should - it quickly expresses some ideas that would take too long to describe otherwise. The error lies in relying on jargon to a great extent, to the point that nobody unfamiliar with the jargon can divine from the piece, either explicitly or implicitly, what the words mean.

My personal favorite example comes from video game coverage. One of the most common phrases I've seen in video game reviews in the last ten years (and prevalent to the point of constant presence five years ago) is the term "anti-aliasing" or some variant of the word. Now, should you know what it is, it's useful to know and quickly gets the point across. However, I have never, once, seen a video game review (or editorial, or anything outside of Wikipedia truthfully) that even talks about the basics of what the term means. At this point, I actively refuse to use the term in context because I feel like it will only hurt my writing and people's ability to understand it.

Academics are supposed to be interpreters, as you say Ian. So they shouldn't use speech that requires yet another interpreter.

As for the comment about how Eric drew of his background in theater, he immediately clarified this by saying "and incorporated dramatic theory into the paper." So it is quite appropriate.

Finally, for the ourselves above, I believe Eric is referencing himself in the group that try to be serious about criticism, but not so serious that they lose sight of the importance (or lack thereof) of their work. I might be inferring too much, but I doubt it.

Comment from: marlowe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 3:04 PM

Re: Ian's third point:

Second, I'm unclear about the import of your references to script format and stage directions. Interpreted one way, you just don't understand how to write an academic paper, which I'm sure isn't true. So what lesson am I supposed to draw from that?

The way I read Eric, he was saying the literature professor in question objected to his (Eric's) analysis of Hamlet as a theatrical work rather than as a pure text. Many professors object to the consideration of Shakespeare's dramatic elements - Harold Bloom is wont to say "I have no idea how anyone could stage this play, and I've never seen a production of it that was remotely passable," about practically every major Shakespeare play in the canon, for example.

So, when Eric writes:

Apparently he thought the script format and stage directions were some kind of bizarre literary style.

I think he's referring to the professor failing to consider Shakespeare's works as plays, but instead as novels, poems, or some other form of "pure" text. The confusion probably arises from lack of clarity as to whether the work with "script format and stage directions" is Hamlet, or Eric's paper.

Of course, I could have gotten this wrong; I just wanted to put forth my own reading of his comment.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 3:15 PM

Everything Eric has ever written can in some way be attached to themes involving the death of God in modern society. ;)

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 3:33 PM

I think the whole problem is finding an audience. If an academic wants to write an obtuse, impenetrable dissertation and go "pfft" when a layman asks a question about it, that's their business. But we have a whole movement in webcomics right now that somehow believes that that kind of academia is made for the general public.

I never had a problem with academia. I have a problem when someone says that critical discourse is what's going to bring webcomics to the public, as if that's going to get the work in front of more people than the work itself is.

Add to this the fact that most people can't tell the difference between phony, made-up discourse and "legit," and that kind of writing is worthless to the public. Do you know how many respondents believed Modern Humor Authority to be real? It was designed to be thoroughly over-the-top and meaningless, but it was being read in the same sitting with Webcomics Examiner, Pitchfork, Flak and all that. "Doom" as a metaphor for the plight of the housewife? Come on.

Comment from: Michigander [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 4:07 PM

Marlowe:

I think that's precisely the right way to read the stage directions comment. Thanks a bunch.

32_Footsteps:

My defense of the claim that Eric's claim about engagement is incoherent is contained in the paragraphs following that assertion. I refer you to them.

I don't know what point you're trying to make in your second paragraph. Aside from your dubious thesis about "how words should function," there seems to be some equivocation in there. If the function of technical terminology is to shorten communication, why should we also include the paraphrases of the jargon?

Although to a certain extent, I agree with you. People should define their terms; that goes without saying. But there are also certain terms of art that are common enough currency not to require definition. For instance, I would not define "context of assessment" every time I write a philosophy of language paper. Knowing when it is appropriate to take such reader knowledge for granted is more art than science, and I won't pretend that I know how it works.

Pieces of writing do not occur in a vacuum. I encounter words I don't understand all the time. I google them and often get enough of an explanation to get on with reading it. This goes for things as diverse as "complex integration," "sliding signifier" and "anti-aliasing." The internet is a great fount of information; why should we expect that every piece of writing we encounter answer all the questions it could possibly raise?

Your forth paragraph is a non-sequitur. From being an interpreter, it does not follow that our words should never require interpreters. Plus, you seem to be assuming that, by "interpret," I mean that someone else tells you what the words mean. I implied no such thing; interpretation can occur in the brain of one individual who thinks about what he is reading. Does that sentence in Foucault not make any sense? Think about it. There's a point where you can safely say that the incomprehension is not your fault, but rather the writer is actually talking gibberish. People will draw this conclusion at different times in different contexts. To accuse an entire industry of pretension on the basis of such responses strikes me as infantile.

Your last paragraph, I think, fails to address my concern. As a matter of fact, my interpretation proceeded under an assumption very similar to the one you offer. (See second paragraph of section 2). My point was that, read that way, it is hard to see how the comment is a propos to either the strip or the discussion about academia. non-specialists making fun of specialists does not help the non-specialists "not take themselves too seriously." That is what I wanted clarification on.

Ian

Comment from: Ahzurdan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 4:55 PM

Kristofer Straub wrote:

I never had a problem with academia. I have a problem when someone says that critical discourse is what's going to bring webcomics to the public, as if that's going to get the work in front of more people than the work itself is.

It may not engage more people than the work itself, but if will definitely get the work in front of more people than the work by itself.

Any discourse that garners interest will help to bring webcomics to the public. Critical or not is entirely beside the point.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 4:56 PM

Ian, you're completely misunderstanding me. First off, I wasn't looking for a defense. I'm looking for a proper use of the word "coherent." Whatever issues you might have with Eric's piece (and those are seperate), I'm wondering how you could say it isn't coherent, purely by the dictionary definition of the word. Argue the conclusions, maybe, and argue the basis, maybe, but not the logic in and of itself.

The purpose of the second paragraph is to introduce an idea on its own, namely that jargon should be clarified within the piece. Further development of the idea gets its own paragraphs.

As to why you should throw in a paraphrase (or other clues within the writing) as to the meaning of a piece of jargon, it's simply because jargon without context does not impart any meaning; it merely hides meaning. Jargon is merely a space-saver, to keep someone from having to repeat a phrase repeatedly. I've seen many writers forget that.

I'll grant that nobody writes in a vacuum. However, people will read in a vacuum. And I believe that a good writer will account for that and write accordingly. A writer does not want to force people to put down their writing to have to go look up a phrase used. Or the basics of an event referenced. It causes a piece of writing to lose its impact. By including the relevant basics, you allow a reader to continue reading despite potential unfamiliarity with subjects otherwise brought up.

The fourth paragraph is a play on words. Basically, an interpreter of ideas shouldn't require an interpreter of words (which are, really, just expressions of ideas). It's meant to be funny, and carry a point. I'm taking it to mean you didn't much care for either.

Also, to be fair, even taking it for a non-sequitir (which I believe is erroneous, since it continues my thoughts on the use of jargon in writing), it doesn't automatically strike the paragraph of value.

Finally, my interpretation reads much differently to me than yours does. You seem to completely ignore his clarifying note about dramatic theory, which does show the actual importance of the experience in question.

As for whether or not making fun of someone helps them to stop take themselves more seriously (I'm assuming you're getting your wording backwards; in all of the examples, I don't think the non-academic is taking themselves too seriously), that might be more a function of a given academic than anything else. But one function of humor is to deflate the ego, and it has in many occasions both succeeded and failed. For those that it fails with, there are other methods.

Comment from: Altum [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 5:14 PM

Ian:

non-specialists making fun of specialists does not help the non-specialists "not take themselves too seriously." That is what I wanted clarification on.

This sentence reveals your central misunderstanding.

Eric Burns is not (or, if you prefer does not consider himself) a nonspecialist addressing other nonspecialists in this article. He considers himself a critic, addressing other critics. He considers himself a member of academia, not an outsider.

He's making a parallel between critics in established areas of criticism (Woolf and Shakespeare) and critics of webcomics, which is a relatively new field.

--John

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 5:18 PM

Ahzurdan sez:

Any discourse that garners interest will help to bring webcomics to the public. Critical or not is entirely beside the point.

There's the problem: interest. Which of these would help you the least to pick up a Zits collection in a bookstore -- you having read the strip before, a friend saying he liked it, some broad website saying it was a good strip, or a medium-directed critical essay on the usage of the character Pierce as a racial stand-in for an African-American, conveying the alienation of modern parents by paralleling the "otherness" of tribal culture where piercing is a rite of adolescent passage?

Not to mention that the lattermost is only viewable on a site that you'd visit if you already were interested in Zits. Who's reading Webcomics Examiner, readers? No. It's people who are possibly thinking about submitting an article to the Examiner. It's that type of person, who's vested in the discourse. That doesn't broaden anything.

One thing the discourse crowd forgets is that readers don't give a damn about this stuff. Just because we're mired in it doesn't mean the world is, or wants to be.

Comment from: aaronbourque [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 5:30 PM

My biggest beef with H. Bloom is that I needed to actually learn the first name of Benjamin Bloom, so when I talk about his taxonomy of learning in mixed company I don't instantly draw down the Harold Bloom Floating Flamewar. :) I once spent several minutes of very bizarre conversation because everyone else was thinking Harold Bloom, who I'd never heard of, and I was talking Ben Bloom, who they'd never heard of.
Wow. I haven't heard of either of them.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque

Comment from: Michigander [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 5:32 PM

Ok, just one more.

32_Footsteps:

About readers and vacua: You're just wrong. If someone isn't willing to look up something to clarify, then they're just not committed to reading the piece. Although I take your point that there is a continuum of presupposition and the writer has to be sensitive to who will be reading his piece.

About our differing interpretations: That section of my post was not even addressing his comments on dramatic theory, so I don't know how to respond to your response.

Your last paragraph: You seem to have missed my point. I took Eric to be saying something about how Straub, as a satirist, was deflating the egos of the webcomics criticism crowd. I then wondered what making fun of the academy (of which none of you are a part, see my reply to Altum below) accomplished this.

Altum:

I think your response, if correct, reveals Eric's central misunderstanding. He is not an academic. He possesses no credentials, other than a B.A. (which is not anymore much of a signal), nor is he currently involved in any pre-professional training program, such as a Ph.D. or an M.A. program (or at least, I think not; correct if I'm wrong). Webcomics criticism is also not part of the academy. You're blurring the distinction between smart layman and academics (who work in universities and publish in journals), a distinction I tried to keep clear in my comments with my talk of specialists and non-specialists.

Personal note: I think the idea of a specialist in webcomics criticism, given the state and age of the field, is completely laughable.

Comment from: Christian [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 5:51 PM

Ian...

I don't think that Eric is necessarily equating webcomics with official specialties of academic study. However, it's the danger of webcomics critics becoming as pompous as some people in academia that needs stanching, regardless of the less-distinctive realm of discourse webcomics inhabit. In their haughty attitude, critics can indeed become the equal of academicians, and one does not need a degree of any sort to be able to recognize snobbishness in anyone else.

(End of post directed to Ian.)

The whole topic sounds to me like so much hair-splitting over a question of intent. Do you use polysyllabic words to communicate effectively? Then go ahead, and explain what you mean if the make-up of your audience demands it. Do you use polysyllabic words to estrange people you see as beneath you intellectually and make yourself feel superior? Then you're a jerk that needs to be taken down a peg. Are you writing about a webcomic to illuminate it and show others who may not be aware of it why it's good and might be worthy of their time? No problem. Are you writing about a webcomic simply because it's an opportunity to impress others with your vast knowledge of trivia or because, by writing about it, you think that you will improve the message of the author? Then get over yourself.

The only other point to consider is one of exposure, and Kris has done a fine job of explaining that himself here.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 5:52 PM

Kris, artists talk shop just like everyone else. I hang out on boards where musicians talk about music in ways that would mean nothing to the average listener (and to be honest, sometimes means nothing to me) -- but that's how extended communities are formed. I don't see how Zabel's "Most influential people in webcomics" is any more different than a bunch of musicians discussing other musicians whose techniques have given them more ideas in their own work.

I get awfully cynical about this particular fight because I've seen it happen in other online communities, most notably the "mp3 scene" that existed on mp3.com before they went public and it all got blown to hell. I specifically remember that in 98 or 99 the artists forum on mp3.com would have threads where we would participate in a "round robin" -- we'd all post a song in the thread and everyone involved would listen to the lot and review them. It was a pretty cool experience because you'd have country musicians reviewing rap and punk and vice-versa, and we'd all comment on whatever parts of it we felt qualified to comment on. I got a lot of information about things to look out for when recording tracks and mixing them down from things like that.

The reaction of the people not involved? We were being elitist. Why? Because we were talking about what we were doing like it mattered.

Fuck that. Of course it mattered. If it didn't matter, why the fuck would we bother?

I can't say as I'm particularly interested in the acedemic side of webcomics, but I don't see why anyone should feel threatened by it. A guy who is interested in the infinite canvas and who sets up a website to talk about webcomics using the infinite canvas will probably ignore webcomics that don't use an infinite canvas, bitching about that seems like a waste of time.

My more cynical viewpoint is that there are people who are afraid that the "artsy-fartsy" crowd will wind up becoming popular, simply because they're motivated enough to write about what their groups are doing, and that threatens people... perhaps even you. My only response to that is "hey -- no one is obliged to give a damn about what you like." And I speak from experience on that point.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 6:17 PM

My name is Ian. I'm a long-time reader, first-time poster. I have some concerns about the claims you make in your post. Think of this as a response from the academy (I'm a Ph.D. student in Philosophy).

Hi Ian!

1. Your exhortation for critical discourse to engage everyone from Ph.D. candidates to the "guy who showed up to get out of the rain" is a nice sentiment, but I don't think it's coherent.

I think perhaps you mean 'accurate.' Since you were able to summarize my thesis, more or less, I assume I stated it coherently. ;)

Discourse that appeals to specialists in the field will contain jargon, because they've spent years becoming familiar with the field. So the "obscure references" are rather common ground that can be presupposed by people who have reached a certain level of competence with the material.

Well, yes and no. I'm not saying that someone who publishes a journal article meant for purely academic dissemination needs to write at an eighth grade reading level. However, the idea that literary analysis belongs to those who can quote Derrida and find S/Z dismisses structuralism too succinctly is just plain wrong, in my opinion. We can all be critics, if we wish to be critics. Literature belongs to all of us, and if you can support your interpretation you get to be just as right as John Crowe Ransom.

This is not always the case; some jargon strikes me as opaque and meaningless as well. But we're supposed to be interpreters, after all, and very rarely is even someone like Derrida completely meaningless if you give it some thought.

Derrida might disagree with you. But then he was disagreeable.

By comparison, non-specialists will prefer popularized material because it is accessible. This is also an admirable and necessary critical experience. My point is that you have different demographics and different expectations.

Of course, and absolutely.

However, the elevation of that criticism above the source texts themselves, and the presumption of specialist criticism being innately superior to accessible criticism is where I think we have a problem. This is in part because while the interpretation of art can be art, it is still an interpretation.

However, the more important issue is one of relevance. I go back to our resident nutjob, Harold Bloom. Bloom issued a wholesale condemnation of Harry Potter just about a year after he issued a wholesale condemnation of Stephen King's winning of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Awards. In the latter case, Bloom castigated all of King's work as wholly lacking literary value or aesthetic accomplishment or -- and I quote -- "signs of an inventive human intelligence." In the latter, Bloom felt that children reading Harry Potter was the sign of a culture in decline, especially in a world where they could read The Wind in the Willows, like Bloom did as a kid.

Bloom's statements, and the ten thousand similar ones you and I have both encountered in our critical careers, do nothing to hurt King or Rowling, and do everything to diminish the literary community. The study of literature stops being about literature, in these cases. Instead, it focuses on a presupposition of what is "worthy" of literary analysis and recognition.

That way lies utter irrelevance, because people are going to stubbornly read what they want to read.

Now, of course, this isn't some kind of two-tiered class system. I actually think that academic prose is very accessible for anyone willing to put in a little thought, and specialists could benefit from reading some amateur forays into their discipline.

Well written academic prose is accessible.

Seriously.

Academic prose that isn't accessible isn't well written. This goes beyond a question of jargon and straight into a question of skill. As much as I rag on Harold Bloom for being insane, if you read his very densest literary theory you'll find any reasonably intelligent person will have little difficulty following along. Bloom is a good writer, and his skill makes his writing enjoyable as well as illuminative. Hand in hand with that, look at Pauline Kael -- whether we're discussing her most populist essays or her narrowest essays, her contributions to Film Criticism draw in anyone who takes the time to read them, whether fourth year film students or -- to repeat myself -- someone just coming in to get out of the rain.

Culture is far too complex to capture in some sort of facile academic/hoi polloi distinction.

And here we have the kernel of our misunderstanding -- one that probably came out of my essay.

The only 'facile academic/hoi polloi distinction' at play here is one imposed from the very people I think Straub is right to make fun of. We are all hoi polloi, and we are all academics, because we all get to participate in the discussion and (presuming one's thesis is supportable by the text) we all get to be right.

Still, your "active critical discourse" (which I am tempted to call a piece of unexplained jargon) would, I think, merely alienate both demographics insofar as it did not collapse into the kind of discourse that appeals to one or the other.

Two things. First, if you honestly believe "active critical discourse" isn't recognizable by context, I apologize.

Secondly, critical discourse is active. It's not mine, or yours, or anyone's. It simply is. We're doing it right now. Please enjoy a canape!

Nor do I think your way of separating bad critical discourse from good (i.e. in terms of "exposing people to possibilities") proves your point in the least. I've read professional criticism on Shakespeare's Winter's Tale that opened up a ton of possibilities to me. Good and bad, by this criteria, are to be found on both sides of your imaginary academic/hoi polloi divide, so I am not sure what your definition accomplishes.

Congratulations. You get the point! Tell him what he's won, Bob! "It's watches! From the Spiegal catalog...!"

The reason Straub and people like him are so important is because there's no innate superiority or distinction between professional criticism and populist criticism. And the prevailing attitude in academia that criticism done by professionals for professionals covering "appropriate" work is self-important, smug, and hurts the very study of literature and art.

You seem to think that when I say "[done] wrong, it becomes turgid and self-important, using unexplained jargon and obscure reference like a lodge pin to keep the hoi polloi at bay while the important people are talking" I'm somehow making the very distinction I'm being sarcastic about. I'm not. There are no hoi polloi. Just readers.

2. I am puzzled as to where "our neck of the woods" is supposed to be.

Webcomics criticism as it currently exists.

You write that the egos of academic practitioners are too thick to pierce with satire.

Shakespearean criticism and criticism of Virginia Woolf have had generations of critics who embody everything I'm saying is double-plus ungood about criticism entrenching. If we point and laugh at them, it's not likely to improve matters. (Though admittedly, we might have a good time in the process.)

Webcomics criticism, however, is new. Heck, cartoon and comics criticism in general has had little foundational work performed. So right now, prevailing attitudes can still be formed. And satire can have a lot of impact on those attitudes.

3. One of the examples you adduce in support of your academia-is-up-its-own-ass thesis has me puzzled.

That's because I don't think academia is up its own ass. Just some academics.

The sort of academics who could benefit from being mocked as turgid and humorless, in fact.

I'm talking about your shakespeare paper example. First of all, there are ways to "draw off your theater background" that do merit disdain in an academic discussion.

Yeeeeees? Please do my own professors the professional courtesy of assuming that if I had done any of those things in my paper, they wouldn't have recommended my participation in an academic conference in the first place. This professor felt that interpreting Shakespeare as a play meant to be performed was fallacious. As someone else commented in this discussion, Harold Bloom tends to agree with that sentiment.

Which, to be blunt, I find laughable.

Example: "Well, when I was Hamlet in the Bumfuck local theater production, my director told me that he was x,y and z." Not a propos.

And also not "drama theory." I'll admit that was one of those unexplained pieces of jargon, but please accept on faith that there are schools of criticism devoted to the dramatic arts as well as the literary arts.

Second, I'm unclear about the import of your references to script format and stage directions. Interpreted one way, you just don't understand how to write an academic paper, which I'm sure isn't true. So what lesson am I supposed to draw from that?

Dude?

It was a joke.

Seriously.

I was saying that this professor was claiming there was no place for a discussion of dramatic theory in Shakespeare. Therefore, I had to assume that when he read Shakespeare, and encountered script format and stage directions, he thought they were some "bizarre literary style." I was mocking the man's intelligence, you see.

I hope I haven't bored you. Respond if you like, and take care.

Not bored at all, thanks! And have a lovely evening, sir.

Comment from: ANT Link [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 6:23 PM

Ian -

I hope this doesn't fall under the realm of personal attack, but wow. I don't think I've ever seen someone write a comment about the post at hand who so completely missed what the post was about. You seem to have over-read it and drawn conclusions about intent and references that I think it's safe to say were never in there. I found it perfectly clear what he was talking about, who he was talking about, and how his points all came together, and I didn't need a working knowledge of academic criteria to do it. It seems to me that Eric always writes things to be easily understood; perhaps it would help if you stopped trying so hard to understand.

Comment from: Michigander [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 6:24 PM

Christian:

I think I pretty much agree with you about this. I cleaved pretty closely to the specialist/non-specialist line because that seems to be the line across which the jargon starts flying fast and furious, and where people may seem to start having problems. But if the point is just that everyone can be pompous, well…we already knew that. I hope that Eric was saying more than that.

Tangent: Straub is the man in word, deed and picture. His first post in these comments was insightful and captured my feelings about this whole thing. I think we would differ about the value of evaluative discourse as such (sometimes, one can get the impression that he thinks any kind of criticism is fatuous, though I won't quote him on that), his views on the plausibility of criticism as promulgation device is spot on. So thanks, Kris.

32_Footsteps:

I forgot to respond to your objection to my use of the word "coherent." Sorry about that. What I get from your comments is that you think I'm using the word incorrectly. I didn't check the dictionary, but I think a reasonable use of the word would be to point out that an idea is self-defeating or impossible to manifest. I think a case could be made that Eric's idea (as I take it) of criticism that engages "everybody" could fit this picture. Let's see how:

1. Specialists will tend not to like introductory texts because it is not specific/jargony/specialized enough
2. Laymen will not want to read criticism that academics read as part of their job because it's too jargony/specific/etc.
3. A text that tries to walk a middle road between these will, perhaps, be too specific for the laymen and insufficiently rigorous/specific/engaging for the academics
4. Therefore, texts will tend either to alienate both demographics or appeal to one and not the other
5. Therefore, such texts will not appeal to everyone

I'm sure there are some conditions that could defeat any of the above premises. But the texts that manage to walk the tightrope will be rare indeed, far too rare to be a necessary condition for being "done right."

So I think my use of "coherent" was justified.

Comment from: PatMan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 6:33 PM

Noooo!!

Now you've done it Eric. You've started a whole new discussion where Ian responds to your post. Don't you people care about those of us who can't handle that much intellectual discourse?

In the time it took you guys to pound out all those words, I have written a mere 500 words in an article I'm writing for my blog.

As the lower classes say, ":(".
(PS- Vanderbeam is hillarious.)

Comment from: Michigander [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 6:46 PM

Eric:

Wow, awesome response. I'll just say two things to redeem me from having missed the point as much as you seem to think I have. In your response, you talk about accessible in terms of elegance of presentation. That was not a part of "accessible" that I ever had in mind. I assumed that our hypothetical jargon-laden/jargon-free texts were relatively well-written and that most people could, given a knowledge of the vocabulary, understand them. So I agree entirely that good academic writing is accessible (relative to an audience, of course). I've read too much that wasn't.

I'm not sure I agree with you about the normative implications of "relevance." Sure, people are going to read what they want to read. But, as you say, Harold Bloom is a nut, and not all pompous academics are nuts. I agree with Straub: academics know their audience (the readers of the journals), and they don't need to care if everyone reads them or if they turn other people onto the critical discourse. They get paid either way.

I really did misunderstand your whole Hamlet paper anecdote, but now I'm clear on it. Thanks.

One last thing: I'm not sure I know what you mean by "elevation above the source material." Perhaps examples would be helpful, not that I'm asking you to provide any. Insofar as I understand it, it's a problem that cuts across the academics you have a problem with. Say what you want about Harold Bloom, but in everything I've read of his, his reverence for his source material is staggering and at times borders on worship, especially when he talks about Shakespeare.

ANT:

I will choose not to take your post as a personal attack. But the fact that you found it easy to understand means nothing at all to me. If what Eric has said is true, you have a whole community of pompous academics who pretend to understand the nonsense they spew to each other. I did not understand his point; I saw a bunch of vague references and dissolute resentment directed at imagined enemies. His response to my post cleared up my perplexity (though it did not dissolve all disagreement), but the fact is that the response was necessary.

And come on: over-reading? On this site?

Anyway: nice of you to respond, Eric. I might come around again sometime.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 6:47 PM

(I realize I'm being a bit of a stickler. It seems appropriate, given the tenor of the discussion.)

From the OED (second edition, 1989):

A. adj.

1. a. That sticks or clings firmly together; esp. united by the force of cohesion. Const. to, with. Said of a substance, material, or mass, as well as of separate parts, atoms, etc.

b. spec. in Bot.: United by COHESION, q.v.

{dag}c. coherent small-pox (see quot.). Obs.

d. Various spec. senses in Physics (see quots.).

2. transf. of non-material cohesion.

{dag}3. Accordant or related logically or in sense; congruent; harmoniously accordant. Obs.

4. a. Of thought, speech, reasoning, etc.: Of which all the parts are consistent, and hang well together.

b. said of persons.

{dag}B. n. a. One who coheres or combines with others. b. That which coheres or is connected. (In quot. 1657, ‘context’; = COHERENCE 5.) Obs.

So, I presume you're saying that my thesis is somehow not harmoniously accordant with itself. Unfortunately, I think your proof of this reads far more of your own interpretation of my essay without sufficient support for it.

I state that criticism should engage the reader and excite him, whether that reader is a professional or a layman. You have interpreted that statement to mean I am saying "all criticism should appeal to all people."

For the record, I'm not. For one thing, it's impossible. For another, not everyone likes criticism.

However, if someone shows up and pays attention, they should be able to engage the material, at least if the material is in a position for someone to show up in the first place. Obviously, I don't think that 600 level courses should be taught with Freshmen in mind, but a Freshman can't wander into a 600 level course. However, all the materials for that course should be written as accessibly as possible for that audience. If it's done right, a layman who came across those materials might get lost, but they'll get the sense of what's being written about. Done poorly, no one gets the material except the author.

Comment from: Michigander [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 7:02 PM

Eric:

It seems like we're heading towards one of those really unsatisfying conclusions where it turns out that there was no disagreement after all. I've been saying this whole time that accessibility has to be relativized to an audience in order for the notion to make sense. But if I've misread you, then you've misread me, as well.

I hope I didn't say that you said that "all criticism should appeal to all people." That was never my point. Every aspect of my argument made it clear that I was talking about people who are interested in this sort of thing at a certain level and willing to pursue it.

But I still think you're making a mistake in thinknig that material that does not excite even all interested parties is guilty of some fault. For one thing, professionals and amateurs get excited about different things. To take an example from philosophy, I find rigid designators, and the debate surrounding them, fascinating. Most undergraduates couldn't care less, and that's fine. But that doesn't mean that Kripke's Naming and Necessity (which sort of started the whole debate about rigidification and reference) is a bad book.

Level of specialization affects enjoyment, so I don't see any reason to hold critical discourse to the lowest common (however interested and engaged) denominator.

Your done well/done poorly distinction captures something I agree with you on (rhetorical skill and manner of presentation) but that I wasn't writing about. I was talking about relative level of specialization in vocabulary and topic. Now that is not entirely independent of presentation (I think it takes a master to make difficult material accessible at all, in any sense of that word), but they are two differrent concepts, and I'm afraid we're running them together.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 7:13 PM

Michigander uttered:

Tangent: Straub is the man in word, deed and picture.

Makes me wonder what Tangent said, since I didn't think he was here. Or perhaps you were actually going off on a tangent.

I think we would differ about the value of evaluative discourse as such (sometimes, one can get the impression that he thinks any kind of criticism is fatuous, though I won't quote him on that)

It is easy to think that I can't stand any kind of academia, but I wouldn't write about it so much if it didn't interest me, in the same way that it'd be really bitter and callow of me to do a strip about a museum just to make the point that art is crap.

To me it is just a question of positioning and intent. We need Websnark, the Examiner, all these guys as an expression of the internet's ability to Give Everyone a Voice, and to guide those interested in discussion to that end. I only get upset when I see claims that this kind of turned-inward, hermaphroditic discourse is actually furthering comics in the public eye, when most people have no idea what a webcomic is, let alone someone who writes essays about them.

Another thing I said that upset some people is the idea that you can be an amateur cartoonist, but in order to perform an analysis, you have to follow some doctrine or school of critical thought (or just plain old be able to write a cohesive paper). Someone once said "hey, the webcomics are amateur efforts, why can't my discourse be as amateur?" Which is ridiculous. This would mean that something sloppily-drawn can be reviewed as sloppily. I submit that a lot of these guys are confusing legit criticism for half-assed review with some big words thrown in.

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 7:18 PM

However, if someone shows up and pays attention, they should be able to engage the material, at least if the material is in a position for someone to show up in the first place.
I think I disagree with this. At some point, expert analysis has to be written for other experts, and there's nothing wrong with this. You wouldn't expect a text on nuclear physics to be perfectly clear to a layman, would you?

Obviously, some published literary criticism is completely oblique bushwa, but that doesn't mean that all things that seem oblique are nonsense.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 7:31 PM

Wow, awesome response.

Thanks! (For the record, I'm having fun and I hope you are too.)

So I agree entirely that good academic writing is accessible (relative to an audience, of course). I've read too much that wasn't.

I think we're finding concordance on that point. (See? The system works!)

I'm not sure I agree with you about the normative implications of "relevance." Sure, people are going to read what they want to read. But, as you say, Harold Bloom is a nut, and not all pompous academics are nuts. I agree with Straub: academics know their audience (the readers of the journals), and they don't need to care if everyone reads them or if they turn other people onto the critical discourse. They get paid either way.

Yes, they do. Setting aside Bloom's insanity for a moment, let's focus on the latter.

Straub (and you) are right. Academics know their audience. And if they exclude all but their audience, through pomposity, pretension or all the rest, they do still get paid.

However, the study of literature doesn't exist so that academics get paid. The study of literature exists because there is a value in studying literature. We can learn new things, we can appreciate literature better, we can improve our own understanding of philosophy and humanity. We can also improve literature itself, through example and through discussion. And we can in general, make all peoples more am smart, yes.

With the rise of structuralism, post-structuralism, langues, and (God help us) deconstructionism, there has been a movement away from criticism that anyone outside of specialists can participate in. (Deconstructionism in particularly takes delight in its own obtuseness. Derrida himself said that not only couldn't he define deconstructionism -- but deconstructionism itself defied definition by definition.) The interpretation of literature became an avenue of study by experts for experts.

The problem with that is the aforementioned value of the study of literature. If we remove accessibility from that study, we diminish its value for society. Ultimately, the study of literature becomes entirely insular. Critics write for other critics, not for the public, for the average reader, or for the average writer.

The problem is, writers continue to write, and readers continue to read. However, instead of informing that writing and reading, the critical work exists in isolation. The rest of society disregards the critics. And the critics become horrified at what they do without them. The gulf widens.

And ultimately an entirely new class of literary critics rise, stepping into the vacuum. Because people do enjoy interpreting literature. However, the professors of literature who are supposed to stimulate, moderate and shape their efforts are completely removed at this point. The discipline stops having any societal purpose. And people like you and me have to spend increasingly long periods of time explaining why we didn't "waste" years of college on a humanities degree.

I really did misunderstand your whole Hamlet paper anecdote, but now I'm clear on it. Thanks.

No problem. ;)

One last thing: I'm not sure I know what you mean by "elevation above the source material." Perhaps examples would be helpful, not that I'm asking you to provide any. Insofar as I understand it, it's a problem that cuts across the academics you have a problem with. Say what you want about Harold Bloom, but in everything I've read of his, his reverence for his source material is staggering and at times borders on worship, especially when he talks about Shakespeare.

Oh, absolutely. (The man literally believes Shakespeare influenced Chaucer. Seriously, he's warped.)

However, in that, I'm making reference to Straub's work. One of Straub's recurrent themes, in discussing his own work, is discussing his concern that criticism and a certain number of academics place themselves over the actual work itself -- that it is critical analysis that delivers the worth of the art, not the art itself. Have a look at http://www.starslipcrisis.com/d/20051212.shtml for the most obvious of his jabs at that in Starslip Crisis itself.

I think it's apropos because it is a concern in criticism. Certainly there are some critics who honestly do believe that their criticism of a work is more valuable than the work itself. (In fact, I could see a deconstructionist making that very thesis, as one exemplifies the marginal and marginalizes the exempler -- why shouldn't the critique be made preeminent over the text? Please note I do not subscribe to this view. ;) )

Anyhow. Thanks for a good discussion!

Comment from: Michigander [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 8:05 PM

Just a couple of clarifications, and then I'll retire to prepare my dinner, eagerly awaiting tomorrow's post.

Kris: Yea, I was saying that I was going off on a tangent, not quoting some guy named tangent.

Eric: You write "the study of literature doesn't exist so that academics get paid. The study of literature exists because there is a value in studying literature." I agree that evaluative discourse of all kinds is immensely important and natural for human beings. So I guess we need to make a distinction between academic studies and critical discourse as such. I am more cynical, and I believe that the study of literature, as encased in universities and journals, does exist so that academics get paid.

You also write: "With the rise of structuralism, post-structuralism, langues, and (God help us) deconstructionism, there has been a movement away from criticism that anyone outside of specialists can participate in." Again, this is a great point, and it relates to the discussion of academia vs. joe average critics.

The criticism that the more abstruse styles pushed out of the academy was, of course, New Criticism. That was, it seems to me, the ultimate accessible school, because it held that literally nothing was important to studying a poem except the poem and your smarts, mutatis mutandis for other art forms. This style of criticism enjoyed such tenure because, after WWII, many young soldiers were going to college on the GI bill, an unprecedented opening of the university setting to the "average" man. So, for a while, it seemed that the worlds of joe average critics and academia would converge and enjoy a harmonious union. Unfortunately, other forces eventually drove this happy couple apart, which perhaps makes it all the more important not to identify evaluative discourse with the version of it taught in universities.

Not that any of us would ever do that.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 8:10 PM

It is worth noting I am self-identified as a New Critic. ;)

Comment from: Ray Radlein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 8:18 PM

My biggest beef with H. Bloom is that I needed to actually learn the first name of Benjamin Bloom, so when I talk about his taxonomy of learning in mixed company I don't instantly draw down the Harold Bloom Floating Flamewar. :) I once spent several minutes of very bizarre conversation because everyone else was thinking Harold Bloom, who I'd never heard of, and I was talking Ben Bloom, who they'd never heard of.

I have this overwhelming urge to write a long stream-of-conciousness monologue that trails off into a grouchy and joyless "I said hmph no, not ever hmph no, hmph no no NO..."

Comment from: marlowe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 8:53 PM

At the risk of straying a touch from the topic...

Eric wrote:


The man literally believes Shakespeare influenced Chaucer. Seriously, he's warped.

As much as I think Bloom's a crazy bugger, I think you're participating in a common misreading one of his actually interesting, and (dare I say) subtle points there. The argument isn't "Shakespeare influenced Chaucer" but rather "Shakespeare influenced the way we read Chaucer." Bloom argues that the way we approach Chaucer's text and Chaucer's characters has been totally colored by our cultural innundation with Shakespeare and Shakespearean modes of characterization. Now, I'm not saying he argues that particularly well, but that is the point he's trying to make. (I don't have quotes but if we really want I can drag my old copy of The Invention of the Human [grumblegrumblepretentiousd-mntitlegrumble] out of storage...)

It's sort of like how, reading the Illiad, we as 21st century folk have a tendency to be struck by how post-modern the narrative is (no good guys or bad guys, no "meaning" imposed on life, war portrayed as a bunch of dead and dying folk, almost total absence of dolce et decorum est style propagandising, etc.). Really, the narrative isn't post-modern at all - Homer's writing before those modern concepts of war emerged in the first place. It just looks to us as though he's consciously rebelling against them, and thereby participating in the tradition of 20th-century war literature despite writing thousands of years ago.

That said, Harold Bloom is a nutjob. But even a nutjob can be right twice a day.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 9:34 PM

It's funny, but since capital-C Criticism makes my eyes glaze over, that's actually the one aspect of Kris's comics that I rarely can get into. I mean, I chuckled at that SsC, but I wasn't declaring a burn or anything.

My problem with criticism is that I can't do any of it. Not even basic stuff. Everyone else dreaded book reports in school because they would have to read a book; I dreaded them because I would have to write three paragraphs about it. Three! I am entertained to some degree by creative works, but with rare exception, I can provide little insight into why.

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 9:39 PM

Ian--
"You're just wrong. "

first off, let me say that this is the kind of thing a philosophy Ph. D. should never say. :-)


"Personal note: I think the idea of a specialist in webcomics criticism, given the state and age of the field, is completely laughable."

I suspect that anime, indie rock, and frankly every internet spawned subculture are all too new to have developed academic catalogues and peer reviewed journal analysis, yet each field clearly has experts. A Ph. D. doesn't make you an expert, a thorough knowledge of and insite into a field of study makes you an expert. You used the term specialist, not expert, but I think specialist is even less difficult to qualify for than expert.

Chris--
"The reaction of the people not involved? We were being elitist. Why? Because we were talking about what we were doing like it mattered. Fuck that. Of course it mattered. If it didn't matter, why the fuck would we bother?"

This is the dark side of egalitarianism. It is the assumption that if someone takes a special interest in something, then they must think they are better than you. This leads into many a sad act aimed at "taking 'them' down a peg." a concept which I have never understood. Is it my job to make sure someone else doesn't have an undeservedly high opinion of themselves? Is it yours?

I don't think Straub does this. I think he lightly skewers only people that put themselves in his target radius. Anyone can be a critic/enthuisiest, even a pompous one, and not resemble Kris's characters. To make the leap into his target sites, you would have ACTUALLY think yourself above others, not just do so in someone else's mind. Kris is lampooning people who think they know more about art than the artists themselves (http://www.starslipcrisis.com/d/20060126.shtml), that's a rather high bar of self importance to set for oneself.


Comment from: Boreal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 9:51 PM

Sooooo...

Are you guys gonna make out?

Comment from: bartles69 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 9:54 PM

Kristofer Straub writes:

Ahzurdan sez:

Any discourse that garners interest will help to bring webcomics to the public. Critical or not is entirely beside the point.

There's the problem: interest. Which of these would help you the least to pick up a Zits collection in a bookstore -- you having read the strip before, a friend saying he liked it, some broad website saying it was a good strip, or a medium-directed critical essay on the usage of the character Pierce as a racial stand-in for an African-American, conveying the alienation of modern parents by paralleling the "otherness" of tribal culture where piercing is a rite of adolescent passage?

Not to mention that the lattermost is only viewable on a site that you'd visit if you already were interested in Zits. Who's reading Webcomics Examiner, readers? No. It's people who are possibly thinking about submitting an article to the Examiner. It's that type of person, who's vested in the discourse. That doesn't broaden anything.

One thing the discourse crowd forgets is that readers don't give a damn about this stuff. Just because we're mired in it doesn't mean the world is, or wants to be.

And yet, if I'd never heard of Zits before, reading the critical essay you described on a site such as Websnark (which could be neat, whaddasay Eric?), I would definitely examine the source material prompted the essay. I would then have the opportunity to form my own opinion about it and at the very least I'd have been exposed to new material I might not otherwise have found. This is to me the appeal of well-written critical discourse. The essays (and the forum discussions) found here are not only articulate and intelligent, they are informative, provocative and occasionally lead me to discover new material that I like. Including, ironically, Checkerboard Nightmare and by extension Starship Crisis/Starslip Crisis. :)

Comment from: Alun Clewe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 10:00 PM

And yet, if I'd never heard of Zits before, reading the critical essay you described on a site such as Websnark (which could be neat, whaddasay Eric?), I would definitely examine the source material prompted the essay.

I think you're missing the point. Sure, reading about a particular comic on Websnark might introduce you to that comic. But chances are you're reading the essays about comics in Websnark because you're already interested in comics. Kris wasn't saying that critical essays, on Websnark and elsewhere, couldn't introduce people to particular comics. Of course they can. He was saying that it's very unlikely that critical essays are going to be the means of introducing webcomics as a whole to the general public.

(Also, incidentally, reread his description of the hypothetical Zits essay. I don't think an essay like that would be likely to pique anyone's interest. And I don't think Eric's likely to write an essay "on the usage of the character Pierce as a racial stand-in for an African-American, conveying the alienation of modern parents by paralleling the 'otherness' of tribal culture where piercing is a rite of adolescent passage" any time soon. At least, I hope not...)

Comment from: Plaid Phantom [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 10:15 PM

Dangit, everything I was going to say has been said. Curse you all!

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 10:23 PM

bartles69 knows how to have a good time and writes:

And yet, if I'd never heard of Zits before, reading the critical essay you described on a site such as Websnark (which could be neat, whaddasay Eric?), I would definitely examine the source material prompted the essay.

But why would you be reading Websnark? Because you are a fan of other webcomics, and the discourse. And through that, maybe you'd say "well, I've read lots of essays on The Yellow Kid, but this Zits is new to me, so I'll give it a try."

That is well and good for the 25,000 people in America who read Websnark/Examiner/Fleen/etc, and soon that small group will be totally in-the-know as far as what comics are garnering critical attention.

As for the other 300 million people in this country, let alone the others in the rest of the world, the webcartoonist isn't any more visible than he was already, which is to say not at all.

It's not the job of criticism to empower a strip and expand audiences, so let's stop pretending that that's what criticism does. No one STARTS at Websnark. It is of interest to those already leaning in that direction.

And I don't know, I kind of thought the Pierce thing sounded interesting. We covered similar ideas in some of my writing electives, and the reasoning was usually pretty sound.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 10:24 PM

It is worth noting I am self-identified as a New Critic. ;)

Heh. No kidding.

Sorry I missed most of this thread until now - it's been an excellent read.

I just wanted to throw in a side-comment that even though I know nothing about "Indie", I saw enough of the odd behavior of academics in undergrad to laugh at today's strip. A friend of mine spent a summer in undergrad at F&M at an archaeological dig where she took apart fossilized hyena dung all summer. She said she'd never seen people put more reverence or importance into piles of turds.

Straub really captures the insane level of reverence that an academic's pet project gains (in that acacdemic's mind, anyway). I'd love to say it's specific to academia, but I've seen it happen in I.T. too.

Comment from: Shaenon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 10:29 PM

Um...does impenetrable critical writing on webcomics actually *exist*? I've never seen any. Eric's long-winded, but he's not steeped in jargon or anything like that. The Webcomics Examiner gets attacked as some kind of snotty ivory tower, but the writing itself is pretty straightforward. I think people are taking whacks at a strawman here.

As others have pointed out, true academic writing, the kind you have to plow through in college, isn't supposed to be accessible to the layman, because it isn't aimed at the layman. It's more like a mathematical proof. But that's not really relevant here, since I've never seen writing like this about webcomics.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 7, 2006 10:31 PM

Hey, my blockquotes didn't blockquote! Dangit. need to start actually looking at the preview. Anyway, top line of prev post is Eric's if it's not obvious.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 12:34 AM

Shaenon holla'ed:

The Webcomics Examiner gets attacked as some kind of snotty ivory tower, but the writing itself is pretty straightforward. I think people are taking whacks at a strawman here.

It's again a question of intent and audience. I can't read anything at the Examiner without giving up on it. I always end up asking "what prompted all this? And why is it thirty paragraphs?" Obviously I am not the target audience. You may want to chalk it up to the cloud of webcartoonists who think all this discourse is premature. If that writing is intended for academia only, I can't complain. But to continue on and say it has value to the layman, I think is presumptuous.

Someone else accused me of inventing a school of thought and attacking it with MHA, but there the stance seemed to be "no academic ever would think that way!" But they totally can! And I don't think webcomics is above it.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 12:40 AM

Oh, and that was the other point I made that one time. Do I honestly perceive that a healthy slice of this whole dialogue is ego-based, is borne out of a desire to be the guy to lay the groundwork for a new medium, to be the one who "discovered" it? Do I perceive that in my heart, without a trace of malice or hatred or cruelty? I do, I really do. It's not because I hate these people. I feel they have the wrong idea, that maybe they're reviewing to read themselves review.

If I perceive that, and I've talked to many others -- non-cartoonist intellectuals and "laymen" -- who perceive the same, then whether or not that's the Examiner's intent, that's what's coming across. Our interpretation failed, as part of your potential audience. Our interpretation is "some of these guys are showing off with the thesaurus."

So somewhere there is a disconnect. That's a problem for both parties, audience and critic.

Comment from: Christian [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 1:33 AM

I feel they have the wrong idea...

Then, Kris -- and I ask this purely out of curiosity, not as a challenge or anything even remotely resembling one -- what is the right idea?

Don't get me wrong, I agree with you. But personally, I can't think of a particular medium wherein criticism of said medium hasn't spawned self-gratifying exposition by at least a few people, if not more. It would seem to me that such practice is inherent simply to the nature of criticism.

Now, I could very well be wrong; I'm not an avid criticism reader. And if that's the case, please tell me why, especially if there are examples of media free of this phenomenon. But in my experience, I just don't see how a particular field of interest could somehow dissuade reflexive writing solely by virtue of what it is.

If I'm not wrong, then no matter what the subject, we must take the unwanted with the wanted. The question then becomes: Is it worth it? I think it is, if for no other reason than as a blunt historical tool. Perhaps there may be too much written for the sake of some writers and no one else, but assuming that they don't flat-out lie, could not at least some facts and events can still be recorded in the same sweeping net for later use? While their opinions and intellectual focii may not mean much to anyone else, the subjects they discuss actually might someday later, in another, more useful context. I know there are already people who are attempting to serve in this capacity, but with such a young topic, I don't think any record of any kind should be dismissed. (Can some be improved? Absolutely. Will we ever be free, even mostly, of criticism that is too self-centered? I doubt it. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try, which is why viewpoints like yours are so valuable.)

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 1:47 AM

Wow this thread has been interesting, if a bit stuffy in places.

I just have one question:

If someone isn't willing to look up something to clarify, then they're just not committed to reading the piece.

I'm a printaholic. I'll read just about anything that doesn't read me first. I've been known, in times of "nothing to read"-itis, to page through the dictionary or encyclopedia, or browse Wikipedia just for something to set the brain alight. I'm also moderately intelligent, if a bit too casual for the "truely academic" types - I find the structure a bit stultifying, but I can see its attraction for others.

So it's not too far outside the realm of possibility that I, having read, say, A Tale of Two Cities in high school, might pick up a collection of essays in one of my trolls through the library, and thumb through out of interest. Suddenly, I might find myself intrigued by an interesting point the author makes about the aforementioned novel. Are you saying that it is expected that I, with an established knowledge of at least the basics of the subject (high school being several years ago), should need a reference tool of some sort to understand such an essay? Surely such an essay should be accessible, at least from context, if it's well-written?

I have actually done this, mind you. In the case in point, I did indeed find myself drawn in to the essay, and found the points made therein to be intriguing, highlighting aspects that I had missed in my study in school. It also gave me the opportunity to look at the work with a new eye, one no longer overshadowed by my intense disgust with and dislike of the idiot who pretended to be my instructor that term. I would assume that the author (whose name I have now forgotten, unfortunately) of said essay would have been happy to know that his work had encouraged a jaded former reader to take another look.

Isn't that what such discourse is for? Perhaps I'm missing the overall point here, but isn't capital-C Criticism basically a stratified and high-level version of those conversations wherein one says to another "this book/music/whatever seemed to somehow make me feel such-and-such a way" or "I wonder if maybe Bob Dylan wasn't singing about more than just not being sleepy?" It's supposed to make us want to think, right? To inspire us to want to read more about the subject, possibly even to study more about the criticism process itself, perhaps even to create something new ourselves?

Sure, I remember later going to look up one or two phrases of "jargon" that I was unfamiliar with. But if the essay had read like a technical manual, I would never have made it past the first paragraph or two without putting the book back. As it was, I stood there in the stacks reading the darn thing for an hour without realizing it. That's some good writing, there... and to me at least, it did its job. I wasn't all that invested when I first started reading it.. but by the end of it, I was hooked. Surely that's what critical discourse is really for?

Oh - and I know that this is not All About Darla Day here.. but the anecdote there is the clearest way I can think of, at 12:46 AM (when I should be sleeping, darnit!), of illuminating my point. If your eyes glazed over in reading that, well, mine were glazed as I wrote it. ha!

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 2:53 AM

There are three main reasons why academic writing tends to be written so inaccessible:

1. You have to be so specific in what you are talking about that you have to view your writing in a way like a lawyer writing up a contract or a pre-nuptial agreement. This is particularly true in scientific fields where the topic of conversation tends to be of such minutia that the question has arised whether or not man knows all that there is to know about a particular field.

2. Academic writing goes through several layers of editing processes. I'm sure many of you know how it goes, but basically, you do research, you write up your findings, and you find an appropriate journal that you'd think would accept your journal. If this is a thesis, you'd skip that last step. Either way, you also submit people that you'd recommend in your field to critique your work. The editors may submit their own experts as well. The editing process is rather anoymous (except for thesis...thesi?) as anywhere from three to five experts critique your paper. They can tell the editors to accept, reject, or accept with minor or major revisions, which about 95% of all journal (and all thesis it seems) writings fall into. So, you edit it and you might have it submitted back to the experts for a second go around. And all of this is chronicled for the editor's benefit. Then it's published. So by the time the process has gone through, it's going to look so combobulated and very hard to read.

3. And the last reason: some people are just lousy writers.

Comment from: chalcara [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 3:30 AM

I think this posts sets a new highscore for "Most of the longest comments on websnarks"

*pokes the thousands and thousands of words*

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 7:23 AM

Now, to be fair, anime has been around over 75 years at this point. So an anime specialist is not all that far-fetched.

Now, given that video gaming as a widespread medium (not counting the prototypical version of Pong made in 1956 by a government scientist) has only been around 30 years, being a video game specialist is a bit far-fetched. And yet, I try to do that. It's not so much a question of how long the material has been around, but how much of it is available. Myself, I literally have tens of thousands of examples to study, so I feel like I have a strong basis to focus on the field.

Though for New Criticism... I still think that the school needs to branch out beyond just the work in question. I like the idea of making it available to the layman, but I sometimes find it too limiting. But that's a surrealist talking.

"Sooooo...

Are you guys gonna make out?"

Sure, what the hell.

Burnsie, gimme some sugar.

Comment from: Bahimiron [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 7:34 AM

So when're we gonna see some of Chex' feared endless words on the subject of Achewood again?

Cos I donno about anyone else, but I'm a little disappointed.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 8:15 AM

larksilver, I think you've had a near miss to the point you addressed (either that or I to your point). Those objecting to criticism that makes you look up another work aren't objecting to criticism that interests you in its subject, they're objecting to criticism that makes you drag out a dictionary seventeen times just so you can understand what they're saying about the subject.

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 8:56 AM

Tangent: Straub is the man in word, deed and picture.

Makes me wonder what Tangent said, since I didn't think he was here. Or perhaps you were actually going off on a tangent.
Nope. I wasn't here. Though like Beetlejuice, you say my name enough times and you'll undoubtedly attract my attention.

(Tangent R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn?)

Puzzled me as well until I noticed when he was responding to someone he'd have that name on a line by itself.

You know, sometimes I wonder at the intelligence of using a handle such as "Tangent" (no matter how apt a handle for myself) considering how often it's used in intelligent dialog (not that I include myself in that venue).

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 8:57 AM

Shoot. Forgot the bit. Everything from "Nope." on down was my reply.

Comment from: TasteMyHouse [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 9:01 AM

ORLY?

Comment from: Pseudowolf [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 9:35 AM

A few notes.

Sooooo...

Are you guys gonna make out?

Depends on whether Wednesday has $20 and whether Eric perceives the other party as "hot".

And I don't think Eric's likely to write an essay "on the usage of the character Pierce as a racial stand-in for an African-American, conveying the alienation of modern parents by paralleling the 'otherness' of tribal culture where piercing is a rite of adolescent passage" any time soon.

Well, of course he's not. That kind of analysis is reserved for episodes of Justice League Unlimited. ;)

(except for thesis...thesi?)

I believe the plural of "thesis" is "theses".

I'd like to add to the main discussion, but I lack the writing abilities to do so and everyone's pretty much said what I was thinking anyway.

Comment from: iconoclast [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 10:16 AM

As I like to say, I'd rather be intelligent than an intellectual.

"i'd rather be happy than right any day," huh? i love douglas adams for this reason. there's something about the absurd that brings out the worst in intellectuals and the best in those who understand it for what it is.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 10:27 AM

Really, if you get down to it, isn't all discourse inherently absurd? In which case, the only way out could be through. So maybe the route to true understanding, for some, is to get progressively more absurd and obtuse. Granted, that doesn't help the rest of us.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 10:33 AM

Do I honestly perceive that a healthy slice of this whole dialogue is ego-based, is borne out of a desire to be the guy to lay the groundwork for a new medium, to be the one who "discovered" it? Do I perceive that in my heart, without a trace of malice or hatred or cruelty? I do, I really do. It's not because I hate these people. I feel they have the wrong idea, that maybe they're reviewing to read themselves review.

It's worth noting I think "reviewing to hear themselves review" is a perfectly legitimate reason to take up the pen. Ego is a prime motivator in the universe.

However, if the critic in question can't transcend that motive with his writing -- at the very least by being honestly entertaining to read, by making a point that others will connect with, or (preferably) both, the critic had better realize that he's also the only one who'll want to read that review.

And that too is okay. It's when he writes a review to read himself review and gets upset because no one else on Earth seems to care that we have a problem.

As for myself? I enjoy writing. If it gets read, I'm thrilled. If it doesn't (and I write quite a bit no one ever reads, largely because it's on projects that aren't finished) that's okay too, because I enjoyed doing the writing.

Comment from: MagnoliaPearl [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 10:56 AM

Sweet fancy Moses.

Comment from: megs [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 11:01 AM

I'm greatly surprised no one has brought up tone yet. Sure, the Webcomics Examiner uses some understandable english, but it's the tone of so much of the writing that grafts. I've read a considerable amount of literary criticism and whatnot in a few different fields (and written about how absolutely stupid it was to treat the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes as something other than plays meant to be performed. You miss out on SO MUCH RANTYRANTY etc), and not felt like I was being talked down to or that the writer had some secret grasp of the work he was only allowing me glimpses of. It isn't a question of polysyllabic words or having to use a dictionary while reading. It is a bit more subjective. Sometimes this shows as bad criticism - not fully explaining or backing a point because the writer believes it to be so obvious to himself. More commonly, it's just reckless obscure name-dropping.

In other words, Kris, we don't need more satire, we just need more of Chex's ample buttocks. I MISS THEM SO MUCH!

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 2:51 PM

I feel they have the wrong idea, that maybe they're reviewing to read themselves review.

Versus reviewing for the money or a nebulous public/spiritual good.

As for the other 300 million people in this country, let alone the others in the rest of the world, the webcartoonist isn't any more visible than he was already, which is to say not at all.

It's not the job of criticism to empower a strip and expand audiences, so let's stop pretending that that's what criticism does. No one STARTS at Websnark.

I suspect many people who've become ongoing readers turned up because they noticed a strip with "I've been snarked! [link]" underneath in the notes. A blog can then become the main point of discovery for new comics. That's an expansion of audience, and an empowerment -- if people are talking about your work because they want to, it lends legitimacy.

If I've only encountered the essay on Pierce or whatever subject, the essay is most likely to stimulate interest -- as long as the essay is interesting in and of itself, which an academic style can be. What's found to be of interest really depends on the reader; which is something writers need keep in mind -- unless they're reviewing for their own enjoyment and others simply tag along for the show. It beats people being paid to push specific products or appealing to absolutism for their definitions of quality and morality, IMO.

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 6:14 PM

Paul G: See, I knew I shouldn't have posted my very long comment when I was half-asleep. I was concerned about the same thing; if it requires a dictionary for a moderately well-educated, reasonably intelligent person to understand, then it's designed to be inaccessible. And that's just.. well, it's rude, and somewhat short-sighted.

So I was agreeing with the general idea, in my pisspoor-writing-style kind of way.

Comment from: Cornan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 6:16 PM

Well, this post is a bit old and it's quite likely no one will ever read this, but...

Mr. Straub - It seems to me that you are saying that for all people the only people who will read websnark are people that already like webcomics. I'm basing what I'm about to say on this understanding of what you've written here. Feel free to correct, or ignore.

I am a Philosophy major currently working on my BS (ok, I didn't mean that to be funny, but I'll just leave it because it is). In my classes I have made the acquaintance of a girl who is very much interested in feminism and, more specifically, feminism in Philosophy. One day at the library she heard me chuckling to myself and asked me what I was reading. It was Websnark.

Now, I had tried to show her webcomics before. I'd tried talking about them in philosophical terms and in plain terms of enjoyment and she never really got hooked by any of the comics I tried to show her. However, the particular snark I was reading on that fateful day was Eric's essay regarding Jade and Miranda and the LARP/kissing max storyline. She read it. She was interested. She read the entire archives of PvP and is now an avid reader of several other webcomics.

So, what we have here is a case where, guess what, the critical dialog DID induce someone who wasn't at all interested in webcomics to become interested in webcomics. If you're asserting a universal statement that this isn't possible I think this takes care of that. If you're not saying that, then I'm not sure what exactly it is you're trying to say.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 6:33 PM

You know, if I was a philosophy student, I'd probably claim I was going for a BA even if the diploma said "Bachelor of Sciences". Just to avoid the obvious jokes.

Fortunately, my degree actually does say "Bachelor of Arts" on it. Heaven only knows I have enough explaining about a degree in French Language and Literature without it being a BS in French.

Comment from: Cornan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 6:48 PM

The worst part is that I've heard the jokes many, many times. I just didn't even think about it until I was re-reading my post for errors.

Comment from: bartles69 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 8, 2006 7:49 PM

Larksilver writes:

I was concerned about the same thing; if it requires a dictionary for a moderately well-educated, reasonably intelligent person to understand, then it's designed to be inaccessible. And that's just.. well, it's rude, and somewhat short-sighted.

These are the pompous and self-serving egos Kris seems to be trying to deflate... the classic example of the art critic who places his own criticism above the art itself by taking that criticism way too seriously.
In an architectural design class my freshman year, a guest lecturer from the psychology department delivered a presentation on what he termed Beginner's Mind, in which he illustrated the differences between the Expert and the Beginner. The Expert, he said, comes into situations with preconceived notions, ideas already in place of how things are. The Beginner, by contrast, takes each experience at face value and forms his own opinions rather than being told what opinions to have by the Expert. Taking about a minute, he drew on the chalkboard a 'painting' (complete with gold baroque frame) of green peas and a single large kidney bean, which he entitled appropriately 'Peas and Kidney Bean'. He then said he would leave the room and return as the Expert and discuss the painting.
He then left the room.
He returned shortly and as the Expert lectured us for perhaps fifteen minutes in the stereotypical art-critic fashion about the use of color, shape, and texture as well as admiring the deep meaning and symbolism of the piece. Inaccessible doesn't begin to describe it, though deliberately so. Picture the scene by Steve Martin in L.A. Story.
(Admiring a painting)
Harris K. Telemacher: I like the relationships. I mean, each character has his own story. The puppy is a bit too much, but you have to over look things like that in these kinds of paintings. The way he's *holding* her... it's almost... filthy. I mean, he's about to kiss her and she's pulling away. The way the leg's sort of smashed up against her... Phew... Look how he's painted the blouse sort of translucent. You can just make out her breasts underneath and it's sort of touching him about here. It's really... pretty torrid, don't you think? Then of course you have the onlookers peeking at them from behind the doorway like they're all shocked. They wish. Yeah, I must admit, when I see a painting like this, I get emotionally... erect.
(The painting is revealed to be of a red rectangle)
(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102250/quotes)
He then said he would leave the room and return as the Beginner and discuss the painting from that perspective.
He then left the room.
.
.
.
.
Eventually we, the expert students, began to filter from the room.
Criticism should encourage exploration and debate, not fuel a pointless existential argument of itself as a self-congratulatory exercise. Honestly, I don't care why critics write what they write. Putting food on the table is no less noble an endeavour than lifting the human spirit for its own sake. After all, that same critic could be spending his time phrasing ad copy to convince the world that Buttox(TM) Face Cream 'takes ten years off your life' instead of 'leads to premature death.'
I do care about what the criticism has to say, and how it goes about it. Does it challenge my beliefs? (not a bad thing) Does it educate or enlighten? Does it encourage me to explore, debate, create?

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 3:54 AM

If you want the perfect example of how bombed out and depleted webcomics discourse is, check out Drunk Comic Reviews. They would say "it's for fun, we're drunk, fuck you," but it serves no purpose other than to let some jealous narcissists bray.

Of course, after the "fuck you," they'd add "just kidding, we actually really respect you. Not really. Yeah, we do! Nope. You're a great guy. Fag. We care about webcomics. Also webcomics are shit. Kidding. Serious! Nope. Yes."

Comment from: William_G [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 1:44 PM

I can't read anything at the Examiner without giving up on it. I always end up asking "what prompted all this? And why is it thirty paragraphs?"

You ever consider the problem may actually lie between both of your ears?

Seriously, your entire arguments have always amounted to, "I dont like it, thus it's wrong" But you have never provided a convincing argument for the Examiner actually being "wrong". Just a lot of hyperbole, false accusations, and assumptions made on your part. And no matter how many times it's pointed out to you that the Examiner is pretty open and plain-spoken, you just keep up with the same old tripe.

Now, I can understand if you had picked this "looks smart, better hate it" attitude up from your new sugar daddy. He can barely count to ten without invoking his fingers. But you're smarter than that.

Anyway, Drunken Webcomics Review: The thing is webcomics drama distilled. It's unabashedly the utter bullshit and ego-forcing that you, and everyone else, is currently engaging in.

The only difference between it, and the other motivations for "Teh drama" is it's honestly done instead of being wrapped in self-serving half-turths, attacks, and misrepresentations that everyone engages in.

It's pretty offensive, but you know what's the most offensive thing about it? That it's simple existence, and growing buzz, proves what a bunch of drama-adoring, hypocrites everyone is. It has as much relation to "discourse" as a rock has to toast with jelly.

Man, when time goes on and it starts to look like someone like Squidi was right about "the community"... well, it's just a shame.

Keep on wanking.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 2:11 PM

Two things -- first off, be careful about the 'finger counting' comments. That's the over the line. We're keeping (mostly) on this side of it. Let's keep that up.

Secondly... it is worth noting that I too haven't ever had any problem with the Examiner, or with reading it. Nor do I think most laymen would have much issue. They're not talking about zeugma or anything.

(Seriously. Zeugma. But I digress.)

There is a difference between deflating a specific attitude prevelent among some academics, and attacking a publication for not being to one's taste. Kris Straub (and others) don't care for the Examiner. That's fine. Other folks do. It takes different strokes to move the world, Alan Thicke once said, and I believe him.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 3:02 PM

You know, you're right, William G. The mere existence of Drunk Comic Reviews means that people are clamoring for it. If you'll excuse me, I have to run down some kids in front of an elementary school. The mere existence of hit-and-run accidents means that people can't get enough of them!

The good thing about Drunk Comic Reviews is that it puts all the cranky webcomics "commentators" in one easy-to-ignore place.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 3:35 PM

Hold on a second. I'm going to apologize for the last remark. William, I sent you an e-mail instead.

Comment from: Alun Clewe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 3:43 PM

They're not talking about zeugma or anything.

I once invoked the concept of zeugma to defend a grammatical construction in an article in my college newspaper. Was that wrong? ;)

(Mind you, it wasn't in the article itself that I invoked it. It was in a conversation with an editor. I don't recall the specific sentence I was defending now...)

Comment from: Ray Radlein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 5:32 PM

If you want the perfect example of how bombed out and depleted webcomics discourse is, check out Drunk Comic Reviews. They would say "it's for fun, we're drunk, fuck you," but it serves no purpose other than to let some jealous narcissists bray.

Using Drunk Comic Reviews as an indictment of the state of webcomics discourse seems to me like using Television Without Pity as an indictment of the nature of television criticism.

I dunno. Maybe it's just your use of "is" in that fist sentence that's bothering me here; you seem to be equating the whole universe of criticism by its basest element, as though nothing else mattered or even existed.

Comment from: Ray Radlein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 5:42 PM

(Seriously. Zeugma. But I digress.)

Thank you for introducing me to "zeugma."

A new word! I can't remember when I last came across a word that was completely new to me — especially one that actually describes something specific for which there is no other word. Wow. It's like being young again.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 6:38 PM

Zeugma

Ooo, I love those. In moderation anyway -- sometimes it's nice to be reminded of the process of interpreting language.

From a Greek word meaning "yoke", I've just discovered... ta!

Comment from: Kristofer Straub [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 8:01 PM

Using Drunk Comic Reviews as an indictment of the state of webcomics discourse seems to me like using Television Without Pity as an indictment of the nature of television criticism.

Good point, but given that Joe Zabel and William G are involved, I don't feel like I can discount it outright either.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 8:29 PM

I'm just finding it funny that I used zeugma earlier in this snark and it was completely missed at the time.

Mut the important thing is, does zeugma have a plural? Scrabble games will be at stake over this.

Comment from: Alun Clewe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 8:49 PM

Mut the important thing is, does zeugma have a plural?

The OED doesn't list a plural for "zeugma", and none of the quotations it cites use it in the plural either. A case could be made, I suppose, that if the plural isn't specified, it should be assumed to be regularly formed, i.e. "zeugmas".

However, the OED does flag "zeugma" with the double line which indicates an "alien or non-naturalized" word. The case could therefore be also made that "zeugma" should be pluralized as the Greek word from which it is ultimately derived. Some Greek words ending in -a have plurals in -ae (e.g. formula -> formulae, amoeba -> amoebae); others have plurals in -ata (e.g. stoma -> stomata, stigma -> stigmata). I admit I don't know enough Greek to know which of those classes the Greek word "zeugma" falls into, and whether its plural should therefore be "zeugmae" or "zeugmata", or whether in fact it makes its plural in another way still.

(Actually, according to the OED, "zeugma" isn't derived directly from Greek, but from a modern Latin term which itself derives from the Greek word. Which only complicates things further.)

I suppose all of this may mean that "zeugma" simply hasn't been used in the plural enough to establish an accepted form for it. So maybe you can pluralize it however you want. I hereby declare the plural of "zeugma" to be "zeugmoq"! Take that, Scrabble-players!

The final paragraph above is not meant entirely in earnest. Just in case you were wondering.

Comment from: Alun Clewe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 9, 2006 9:46 PM

Whoops. I'm a doofus. All the "Greek" words I cited above? "Formula", "amoeba", "stoma", "stigma". Uh...yeah. They're all really Latin words. Not Greek. Most of them were ultimately derived from Greek, sure, but the plurals are Latin plurals. Not Greek.

Which means those plural forms could still apply to "zeugma", since, like I said, it actually comes more directly from a Latin term itself. But still...I do know the difference between Latin and Greek. I know they're two different languages. Really.

Anyway. "Zeugmoq". Yeah. Or "Zeugmxj". Your choice.

Comment from: Factitious [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 3:59 AM

According to my handy Scrabble reference (The National Scrabble Association's Official Tournament and Club Word List), "zeugmas" is tournament-legal, but "zeugmxj" is restricted for reasons of play balance.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 5:19 AM

You know, I saw at a FAO Schwartz in Kansas City (the name alone conjures up all sorts of Spaceball like puns) a "Super Scrabble" edition that had Quadruple Letter and Word Scoring Spaces. Dude. (They also had a Rubiks Sudoku cube. And several Rubik 5x5 cubes. I wonder if my grandparent's Uncle Wiggily game is worth anything?)

Well, anyway, I have to ask: why Zeugmas is alright, but Zeugmxj isn't? And what do they mean? And why do I have this urge to chug down some Zima?

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 7:48 AM

You can look up zeugma on Wikipedia. I recommend scrolling down to examples - those are much more clear than the actual definition.

And I have Super Scrabble - I got it as a birthday gift for my wife one year. That sucker is hardcore - doubling the letters in the bag, arranging many places where it's easy to hit two double word scores, a double and a triple, or two triples with one word, and just giving you more real estate to play with. When my wife and I have a few hours to kill, we love playing that against each other. With two players, the scores easily zoom past 600 by the end.

Also, if you're like me and you play to clear your rack, Super Scrabble gives you so many opportunities. I once managed to clear my rack four times in a single game.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 11:29 AM

I suppose all of this may mean that "zeugma" simply hasn't been used in the plural enough to establish an accepted form for it.

It's not even used enough to have definitions that aren't rather exclusive... not that this is uncommon in English. "Cleave" is a great word. (Autoantonym/contronym.)

Comment from: HumanSockPuppet [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 4:02 PM

Well stated, Mr. Burns. I'm presently one quarter away from graduating with my B.A. in English, and I agree whole-heartedly with your comments about self-important criticism. It's enough to drive even the most devoted reader mad.

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 10:33 PM

Okay, I'm entering the game a little late, and the people I'm responding to may have all gone home by now. Oh well.
Ian
Um, I don't think that the relative rareness of people who can write professional papers that can be understood by the layman without boring professionals means that that shouldn't be one of the primary criteria for good work in a field.
I'm coming out of Biology myself, so I've slugged through my fair share of papers written by folks who are incapable of writing clearly about a subject. At the same time, there is a fair amount of high level professional writing out there that engages the professional while allowing the home viewers to play along.

An example outside of my on field.
Quine, his first papers on Naturalized Epistemology. Painful, dense, important to the field. Made my eyes bleed.

Kuhn, His rewriting of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (or some similar title.) As important and engaging to an epistemologist (or is that epistemologer?) as Quine's work, but mostly accessible after he stops using so damned many discrete meanings of the word paradigm. His writing has a level of readability that all philosophers should strive for.

Longino on Feminist Epistemology. More recent, the importance of her work is less well established at the moment. But I suspect that at least some of her pieces may say things as important and engaging as either of the two folks above. Completely readable for both the professional and the reasonably intelligent layman.

Gettier. At least as important as any of the three above (though Quine's work might possibly be more important.) The thousands of pages of response to his 5 page paper suggest that professionals found it engaging. My 14 year old brother could follow his paper if I defined the symbols for him.

Montykins
About that Nuclear Physics Book.
I don't expect to be able to follow the math in an advanced nuclear physics book. But the authors should make damned sure that everything else is completely clear. I should be able to take their math as a given and understand their conclusions. Otherwise they have failed. (I find the same thing when I read topology papers. I can generally follow most of what is said if I skip the math or more accurately read only the connections between the bits of math.)

miyaa
Coming out of the sciences, I have to disagree with you a little. Yes you must use your technical terms, but that doesn't mean that your writing should be opaque. At the very least a reasonably intelligent layman should be able to use the jargon as placeholders and follow the flow of the argument presented. I've read some very good papers over the years that were just as technical as the very worst of them, but that I could suggest to my little brother. (It is going to suck when he gets old enough that I can't use him as a meter stick for adequate readability.)

32 Footsteps
That is exactly why my General Biology/Ecology bachelors is a BA. Too many "BS in Ecology huh?" jokes.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 11:16 PM

Ronin...

You also have to keep in mind that you are dealing with journals that have very limit space per page as well. Some journals ask upwards of $80-100 a page. So space is critically limited, and so what ends up happening is most articles use as much technical wordage as possible and leave a lot of the arguments for the readers as an exercise to do later. They will also heavily refer you to previous articles that may help you clear it up...after you check out even older articles. This establish a reference paper trail so that way, theoretically everything eventually gets explained away. Theoretically.

And on top of it, they're pushing for the authors to do as much of the writing, editing, putting pictures, graphs, and equations with the correct locations as possible without the editorship's guidance, which is originally what they are paid to do so.

See, to many scientists journals and articles aren't for the "reasonably intelligent layman." They're for other scientists so that they can read up their colleuges work and see if they can duplicate it. Cynically, it's also for their adminstrative bosses so that the scienists can show that they've spend the grant money well, and that this lead to more and bigger amounts of grant money that they can use for even more "important" scientific works. So, there's a lot of disincentives to write clearly so that the general public can understand it.

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 10, 2006 11:49 PM

miyaa
I'm aware of all of that. That is why it is a gem when you find something that is clear anyway. The fact that some people can do it means that it is a skill that should be taught and emphasized. (Some of that is my own feeling on the subject, some of that is a few of my professors who insisted that everything we turned in be complete, concise, and readable.)

I realize that the specialist journals aren't intended for a reasonably intelligent layman, but if your writing isn't clear enough to be followed by said layman, then it isn't clear enough to be used as communication with your peers.

As for paper trails...

Thank the gods for retrospective literature review articles. I know they aren't a substitute for the originals, but they are invaluable for those of us who just need to know what the conversation is.

I don't have it in for the scientists either. Philosophy Journals are as guilty of allowing crap writing between their pages when they also contain many examples of writing that is perfectly servicable or better.

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