The Art of the Critic

* A student asked me about how to critique other people’s writing. The following is an excerpt from my answer.

It begins with you. You have to have a “reading” of the work. Something within you will tell you that something is bothering you about the work, or really engaging your attention. Try to enter a mental space where only you and the work exist and listen closely to what you’re feeling when you’re reading.

Criticism and reading is a huge part of writing. Being a critic is about being sensitive to your own reading, more so than it is about being a scholar (many people confuse “being a critic” and “being a scholar” as being the same thing; they are not the same thing). In Korea, unlike the Anglosphere, criticism (평론) is considered a genre of literature. I agree with this stance. Critics, like poets, need to be very sensitive to their own reading, to their own thoughts. Most Koreans are not trained or encouraged to do this. We’re mostly taught to do what the teacher tells us to do.

I can’t tell you what to feel. Only you can feel what you feel. Explore what you feel, even if it seems small or insignificant; God may be hiding in that detail. Listen to yourself, and ask yourself on paper: why do I feel this way about this sentence? About this paragraph? About this work? Always remember that criticism is as much about you as it is about the work you are critiquing. You are trying to discover something about the writing and the author, of course. But you are also discovering something about yourself.