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Old 11-04-2009, 01:58 PM
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RonPrice (Offline)
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Default Dear Mike C


Part 1:

The first criticism of my writing, at least the criticism that I remember was in 1949 when I was in kindergarten. I’m sure I received criticism of my writing in the two years before that, perhaps as early as 1947 when I was three and in pre-school, but I have no memories of incoming criticism until, as I say, 1949. That was 66 years ago.

Early in the new millennium, in 2004 to be precise, I began to receive written criticism of my prose and poetry on the internet. I had received written criticism of my published writing since 1983 when I was able to get some 150 essays published in newspaper. Writing became, by the early 1980s, a more central focus to my life, much more central than it had ever been--and it had always been central in one way or another at least for those seven decades.

Part 2:

The internet is full of lumpen bully-boys who prowl the blogosphere; there are the hysterical secularists who proliferate among the commentariat and the dogmatic Islamists who try to impose their interpretation of the Quran on the rest of the Muslim community. They are all tyrants of a sort and one must deal with them in one way or another as their criticisms are sent your way from time to time.

The reactions of two writers to criticism of their work are discussed below because their reactions throw light onto my own reactions to this inevitable reality of life if one is, as I am, a writer, a poet, a man of words, a writer of belles-lettres, a belletrist. For many writers the term belles lettres is used in the sense to identify literary works that do not fall into other major categories such as fiction, poetry or drama. Much of my writing has become, in the last twenty-five years, a hybrid that does not fit easily into the major categories of writing.

And so it is after some sixty years of having to deal with this phenomenon of critical feedback of my written work I pause here to reflect on incoming criticism of what I write drawing on the experience of two other writers of fame and much success.
Section 1:

In 1936, right at the start of the Baha’i teaching Plan, a Plan in which I have been myself engaged in a host of ways during the last half century, the American poet Laura Riding(1901-1991) wrote to a correspondent, "I believe that misconceptions about oneself which one does not correct but where it is possible to correct, act as a bad magic.” That bad magic has been at work on the reputation of Laura Riding for many years, for well over 70 years.

One of the criticisms levelled at her in her later life, and repeated by the renowned literary critic Dr. Helen Vendler, was that she "spent a great deal of time writing tenacious and extensive letters to anyone who, in her view, had misrepresented some aspect, no matter how minute, of her life or writing." Vendler found Riding, somewhat predictably, "more than a little monomaniacal,” in relation to criticism of her work. It is true that despite advanced age and failing health, Riding continued her vigorous and one might even say valiant attempt to halt the spread of misconceptions about herself to the end of her life. But the "bad magic" was too powerful to be overcome. Incidentally, this view of criticism that Riding held, the view that it was “bad magic," was held by a woman who was also accused of witchcraft by some zealous critics.

Why was Riding so scrupulous in her attempts to correct misconceptions of her life and writing no matter how minute? It was, partly at least, because she recognized the importance of details to the understanding of human character. "The details of human nature are never a matter of infinitesimals," she wrote in an essay published in 1974. "Every last component of the human course of things is a true fraction of the personal world, reflecting a little its general character."

Section 2:

My approach to incoming criticism is more diverse than Riding’s, not as consistently intense and defensive. Sometimes I ignore the comment; sometimes I am tenacious and write an extensive response; sometimes I write something brief and to the point. Sometimes I deal with the comment with some attempt at humour, sarcasm and wit, if I can locate these clever sorts of written repartee. I certainly agree with Riding that we should not be judged by some infinitesimals, but it is difficult not to be judged by all sorts of things or which infinitesimals are but one.

After five years, from 2004 to 2009, of keeping some of the written and critical feedback sent to me by readers on the internet, I must conclude that, thusfar, the negative feedback hardly amounts to much that is of any significance, at least to me. Most of the feedback has to do with my participation at various websites, participation that was negatively viewed. My posts were seen as: too long, inappropriate, raising the hackles of some readers, boring, inter alia. I thought this personal statement here, this brief analysis, would be a useful summary position of my views on incoming criticism after four years. Some people on the internet let you know in no uncertain terms what they think of your posts. Frankness, candour, invective, harsh criticism, indeed, criticism in virtually every conceivable form, can be found in the interstices of cyberspace. In the last five years I have been on the receiving end of everything imaginable that someone can say negatively about someone’s writing. This negative feedback has been useful and I have tried to respond in ways that improve readers’ opinions of my work. Sometimes I am successful in these efforts.

Sir Isaiah Berlin(1909-1997), a leading political philosopher and historian of ideas, gave a lecture in 1970 on Russian poet Ivan Turgenev. Berlin pointed out that this famous Russian writer altered, modified and tried to please everyone in some of his works. As a result, one of the characters in his books “suffered several transformations in successive drafts, up and down the moral scale as this or that friend or consultant reported their impressions.” Berlin goes on to say that Turgenev was inflicted by intellectual wounds as a result of the criticism of his works by others, wounds that festered for the rest of his life. He was attacked by writers and critics of many persuasions on the Left and the Right. Turgenev possessed, Berlin noted, what some have called “a capacity for rendering the very multiplicity of inter-penetrating human perspectives that shade imperceptibly into each other, nuances of character and behaviour, motives and attitudes, undistorted by moral passion.” Turgenev, like Riding, could never bear his wounds in silence. He shook and shivered under the ceaseless criticisms to which he exposed himself so Berlin informs us.

Section 3:

After forty-five years(1964-2009) of having my writing reviewed before its publication by Baha’i reviewing committees of national and locally elected Baha’i institutions, after trying to write in a way that would please various groups of people both within the Baha’i community and without by students and teachers-- before my writing saw the light of day in some publication or school-handout, I came to enjoy writing on the internet. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Australia does not require writers like myself to have their writing reviewed before it goes onto the internet. Pleasing others, of course, is still important but, for me, there is a new found freedom of expression that the internet provides. Part of this freedom is due to the advantages and pleasures of age. Now in the early evening of my life, these early years(60 to 65) of late adulthood(60 to 80) with jobs/employment positions far behind me, no one checks what I write before it goes into the light of cyberspace.

After it gets there, though, it is ignored, criticized, diagnosed, interpreted, been subjected to hair-splittings and logic choppings. I am on the receiving end of invective, negative appraisals and subjected to all sorts of advice; I am viewed as tactless, insensitive, awfully boring and told where to get off, where to go and why I should discontinue the practice of writing. I am also told what a wonderful inspiration my writing is. These words of encomium and opprobrium that I receive are really not much different than; indeed, are much the same as, the words writers get when their words are found between hard and soft cover books. Even the writings of Shakespeare, the Bible and other major works in the western tradition--get great buckets of criticism poured on their them from the generations which have come on the scene since, say, 1979, those under thirty, to chose a convenient time frame for most of the incoming criticism I receive.

Ron Price
Updated from: 15/7/’09 to 1/5/'15.
married for 48 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, a writer & editor for 16, and a Baha'i for 56(in 2015).

Last edited by RonPrice; 05-01-2015 at 03:00 AM.. Reason: To update the wording
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