WRITTEN BY VALERIE KAUFMANN
St. Francis College welcomed esteemed critics Wesley Morris, Margo Jefferson, Hua Hsu, and A.O. Scott for a discussion about cultural criticism’s past, present, and future.
The lively panel started out with a discussion about each critic’s ‘cultural diet’–the information they must consume daily in order to do their jobs.
“I became a critic because I wanted to make consumption into work,” said Hsu. While he described his daily intake of media as fluctuating, it is the curiosity that fuels the work of a critic. Some described it as a stressor- creating a compulsion to “keep up” with culture. Others saw it as a privilege, allowing them to earn a living based on their interests.
Be it a force for bad or good, curiosity can certainly lead to different ways of approaching criticism. “If you have various multiple tastes,” said Jefferson, “you can’t always be the expert.” This idea of uncertainty resonated the panel, with each panelist denouncing the idea of critical authority. Rather than mandating what is good and bad, these critics seek to inspire thought and debate.
A recent platform that inspires endless debate is that of social media which is, according to Wesley, “a whole different place to experience criticism.” With response coming constantly and in real-time, critics are faced with new opportunities, and new challenges.
“A challenge for modern critics is the management of the stimulus,” said Scott. With their consumption of culture already taking place at an elevated rate, the addition of even more information available for consumption can be daunting.
But Scott doesn’t find the shift toward social media to be all negative. He lauded Twitter in particular because it, “makes the life of being a critic less lonely,” by allowing him to see that other people are interested in similar things.
Though the utilities that allow criticism to spread may change, the common goal of criticism- to create a relationship between the piece of culture, the critic, and the audience- remains the same. “I’m always just curious about why things are, or what forces produced this thing at this moment in time…,” said Hsu, “…(criticism) is a way of freezing the world and those forces and trying to unpack them.”
This panel was a part of the Brooklyn Book Festival. The largest free literary event in New York City, the festival takes place annually with literary panels held at St. Francis College and surrounding venues. For more information on this year’s panelists and updates on next year’s festival, visit www.brooklynbookfestival.org