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Dealing With Criticism: A Post on Ron Price's Blog

Posted by RonPrice, 04 June 2009 · 9255 views

THOUGHTS ON THE CRITICISM OF OTHERS: 1949-2009

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 60 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 six decades.

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.

Part 2:
 
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."

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.

Part 3:
 
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.

Part 4:
 
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 timeframe for most of the incoming criticism I receive.

Ron Price

Updated 31/7/’08




Well… I visit your website first time and found this site very useful and interesting! Well… you guys doing nice work and I just want to say that keep rocking and keep it up!!!!
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Thanks very much for your comment....I wish you well in your world as well. I have revised the above essay and, in the process, added to it significantly.-Ron in Tasmania
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Since there have been no comments in the last 20 months on the above essay on the subject of the criticism of my writing and, since I have revised that essay several times, I post the latest revision of that essay below for the possible pleasure and interest of readings at this Medieval History Forum.-Ron Price, Tasmania, Australia
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THOUGHTS ON THE CRITICISM OF MY WRITING: A REVISION AND UPDATE OF THE ABOVE ESSAY

Preamble:

The first criticism of my writing, at least the criticism that I remember, was in 1950 when I was in grade one in the then small town of Burlington. Burlington was nestled at the heel of what was then and is still now called southern Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe. The town is and was jammed right at the left-hand end of Lake Ontario. I’m sure I received criticism of my scribblings in the three years before that in my early childhood from my family members and playmates, perhaps as early as 1947 when I was three or four years old and colouring or printing my first words on paper.

I have no memories of that incoming criticism, no memories until, as I say, 1950. That was 60 years ago: 1950 to 2010. I do have memories of criticism of my behaviour as early as the age of four in 1948 when my father applied a wooden hair-brush to my bare bottom as he was asked to do by my mother for some misdemeanour, a behavioural indiscretion the details of which are now long forgotten.

Early in this new, this third, millennium, in 2004 to be precise, I began to receive written criticism of my prose and poetry on the internet. I had received criticism, mostly verbal, of my published writing from 1974 to 2004 during which time I was able to publish some 150 essays in newspapers and magazines, newsletters and in-house publications where I worked in several towns and cities in Australia. Writing had become, by the 1970s, a more central focus to my life, much more central than it had ever been, although it had always been central in one way or another at least, as I say above, since 1950.

When one is a student, as I was from 1949 to 1970 in Canada, receiving criticism of what one writes is part of the core of the educational process. Sometimes that criticism was fair and helpful; sometimes it was unkind and destructive. It is not my intention here to provide a detailed outline of those two decades of criticism of my writing.

Being on the receiving end of criticism in cyberspace has been, in some ways, just a continuation of the first half-century, 1950-2000, of comments by teachers and students, by supervisors and the general public on what I had written. The internet is full of lumpen bully-boys who prowl the blogosphere. There are the hysterical secularists who proliferate among that immense commentariat. There are the dogmatic Islamists and Christian fundamentalists, among others, who want to impose their absolutes on others. They try to inflict, or perhaps promote, their interpretation of the Quran or the Bible on the rest of the Muslim or Christian communities, respectively.

My experience on the internet in the last decade, 2001 to 2011, is, just a continuation of those decades of criticism and, of course, praise that I had already received. “Writers,” as the famous American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said so succinctly over dinner in the film entitled Last Call, “must get used to criticism.” After decades of extensive writing in many places in the public domain, I must agree with this entre deux guerres writer; criticism is part of the air that writers breath and, especially is this true on the internet for writers like myself who have lots of readers. I do not ask for criticism as Somerset Maugham once said they did. “They only want praise,” he also said, but after living Downunder for 40 years I have come to enjoy a little criticism which is certainly part of the air one breaths here.

Literary tyrants, people who are going to tell you where and when, why and how, you have gone wrong in no uncertain terms, without mincing their words or pulling any punches, without what you might call an etiquette of expression and tact, have always come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. One must learn to deal with them in one way or another as their criticisms come your way in the daily round. There are many MOs, modus operandi, to use a term from the who-dun-its, for dealing with the harsh and not so harsh words of others. Of course, it is not only writers who have to deal with critical tongues and words in many forms. A vast literature now abounds on how to deal with this reality of life. Courses are mounted in educational and other service institutions to help people deal with this pervasive reality of everyday life in the micro and macro worlds which we all inhabit.

I discuss below in this 5000 word essay, the reactions to criticism of two famous writers: one from the 19th and one from the 20th century. Their reactions throw light onto my own way of dealing with this inevitable reality of existence if one is, as I am, a writer and author, an editor and publisher, a poet and a journalist, a researcher and independent scholar, a man of words, a writer of belles-lettres, a person with belletrist concerns. For many writers the term belles-lettres is used in the sense to identify literary works that do not fall easily into the major literary categories such as: fiction, poetry, drama, short story, inter alia, but have—at least in some ways--a more aesthetic function or purpose. Much of my writing has become in the last thirty years, 1981 to 2011, since the very helpful treatment of lithium for my bi-polar disorder, a hybrid that does not easily and comfortably fit into the major categories of writing.

And so it is that, after more than sixty years, 1949 to 2011, of having to deal with the phenomenon of critical feedback of my written work, I pause here to reflect on the incoming criticism of what I have written over those years, what I now write, and what I hope to write. I pause and reflect on the experience of two other writers in the last two centuries, writers of fame and much success. at least in some quarters---if not in the popular and

The Example of Laura Riding

In 1936, right at the start of the Baha’i teaching Plan, a Plan in which I have been engaged in a host of ways for nearly sixty years, 1953 to 2011, 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 Riding in her later life, or more accurately, simply a comment about Riding--and repeated recently by the renowned literary critic Dr. Helen Vendler--was that Riding "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, a leading American critic of poetry, found Riding "more than a little monomaniacal,” in relation to criticism of her work.

Despite advanced age and failing health, Riding continued her vigorous and valiant, one might even say, fanatical attempt to halt the spread of misconceptions about herself and her writing to the very 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 being a witch and of exercising a literary witchcraft by some of her more 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." She, like many other writers and non-writers it should be added, never welcome criticism. Some react to the slightest criticism like a cornered wildcat and others like a barking dog.

Writing, it seems to me, is something like biography which, as Freud notes in some general remarks on the subject found in Volume XXI(1927-1931) of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud(Hogarth Press Ltd., London, 1961, p.211) “does not throw any light on the riddle of the miraculous gift that makes an artist.” Still, it seems to me, that biography and writing, do throw some light on the man, and I comment on this reality of life in this short essay.

My approach to incoming criticism is more diverse than Riding’s, not as consistently intense and defensive, not as sensitive to infinitesimals, not like that wildcat or that barking dog. 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 in my intellectual and sensory emporium.

Internet Language

Punitive rebuttals abound on the internet, often laced with the F, the C, or the S words, invectives from the younger generations who have grown up with these words of abuse. A much larger vocabulary of blasphemy and blame can now be found in the print and electronic media, more than in any previous generation at least in modern history. Sometimes taking umbrage at the use of these forms of vilification and vituperation in cyberspace is appropriate and sometimes it is not. I certainly agree with Riding that one’s writing should not be judged by some infinitesimals, but it is difficult when one writes extensively in the public domain, in or out of cyberspace, not to be judged by all sorts of things of which infinitesimals are but one of the many. The only way to avoid criticism and to be totally safe is not to stick one’s head above the ground of cyberspace’s highly varied terrain: just don’t write anything or, even better, stay with books, TV and other forms of the print and electronic media.

Marking Papers

Riding, of course, did not have to deal with the world-wide-web. Her’s was a more refined and elitist, academic and journalistic, literary and scholarly world. Her’s was a world I inhabited for many a year as both a student and teacher, as a lecturer and tutor. I wrote more essays than I care now to count and I marked so many that, by the time I took an early retirement at the age of 55, I can honestly say that I suffered from what I came to call print-glut. When one has to read more than 200 pages of student work every week and do this for years, mark it for spelling and grammar errors, for content and quality, one needs an energy and enthusiasm which tends, for most teachers, to get worn-down at the edges. And this is to put the problem mildly. I found I was just about ill with mental fatigue when I faced a large pile of papers or scripts as they are variously called and which required marking. By the time I came to pull-the-plug and take a sea-change as it is called Downunder in the Antipodes my role as critic of the writing of students had lost all its oils and juices. I was ready to be farmed-out, ready to go out to pasture, where marking was to be seen no more.

Feedback From Others On the Internet

After seven years, from 2004 to 2011, of receiving, keeping and filing some of the written and critical feedback sent to me by readers on the internet, I must conclude that, thusfar, the negative feedback I have received has been useful in adjusting the nature of my posts. The criticism I have received at a multitude of sites at which I post helps me to adjust my contributions to suit the administrators and moderators, the participants and interlocutors who fill the cyberspace places at these world-wide-web locations.

Most of the feedback in these seven years that has been viewed in a negative light tends to see my posts as: too long-winded, not relevant or appropriate, raising the hackles of some readers because they were seen as boring or, indeed, one of many a pejorative adjective. I thought this personal statement here, this brief overview, analysis and comment, would be a useful summary of both the incoming criticism I have received in the last seven years and my views on that criticism. The negative feedback was in the 10% range and 90% of my literary contributions, or posts as they are usually called in cyberspace, received various forms of appreciation.

Some people on the internet let you know, as I have already indicated above, and 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, if one writes as much as I do at more than 8000 locations among the 260 million sites and 4.6 billion subjects, topics or items of information at last count, that are now in existence in that world of cyberspace. In the last seven years I have been on the receiving end of everything imaginable that someone can say negatively about someone’s writing and someone.

This negative feedback has been, as I say, useful and I have tried to respond in ways that improve readers’ opinions of my work and, sometimes, of me. Sometimes I am successful in these efforts of explanation and of self-justification, of defence and argument, of apologetics and apology, and sometimes I am not. Such are the perils of extensive writing and human interaction; indeed, such are the perils of living unless one is a hermit and does one’s own plumbing and electrical work, never goes shopping and relies only on the products of one’s garden for food.

Isaiah Berlin and Ivan Tergenev

To draw now on a second writer and how he dealt with criticism, I introduce Sir Isaiah Berlin(1909-1997). He was a leading political philosopher and historian of ideas before his death as the 2nd millennium was about to turn the corner to the 3rd. In a lecture Berlin gave in 1970 on the 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 of this desire to please his critics, 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 went on to say, in that same lecture, that Turgenev was inflicted by intellectual wounds as a result of the criticism of his works by others, wounds that festered in varying degrees of intensity, depending of course on the nature of the criticism, for the rest of Turgenev’s life. Turgenev was attacked by writers and critics of many persuasions on the Left and the Right of the political spectrum in those days when these political demarcations had more clear and understandable characterizations.

This Russian novelist(1818-1883) possessed, Berlin noted, a capacity for depicting “the multiplicity of interpenetrating human perspectives that shade imperceptibly into each other, nuances of character and behaviour, motives and attitudes.” Turgenev, like Riding, could never bear the wounds he received from incoming criticism of his writing in silence. He shook and shivered under the ceaseless criticisms to which he exposed himself, so Berlin informs us.

Pleasing others, of course, is important for any writer if he or she is to win a place of success among teachers and tutors, supervisors and those in the general public. This is just as true on the world-wide-web. But there is also, and without doubt for millions of internet participants, a new found freedom of expression that cyberspace provides. Part of this freedom, at least for me, is due to the advantages and pleasures of age. Now in the early evening of my life, these middle years(65 to 75) of late adulthood as some human development theorists refer to the period in the lifespan from 60 to 80, with jobs and employment positions far behind me, no one checks what I write before my offerings go into the bright lights and pixelated pages of cyberspace.

My own editing pen is kept busy, of course, and I can edit as much or as little as I desire. Editing has never been one of my favorite activities and I tend to rush this part of the writing job, at least initially. I then revise or alter, subtract or add, delete and generally edit in a multitude of ways as a result of incoming comments, both encomium and opprobrium. Sometimes I make no changes at all to my initial internet post. After a decade of writing in cyberspace and on the several editions of my website, there is little doubt that I do more editing of my work than ever before. This may be for many reasons: age, freedom from employment, more leisure-time—I could add several more reasons.

After my writing gets onto the world-wide-web: it is ignored, criticized, diagnosed, interpreted, subjected to hair-splittings and logic-choppings by readers and posters, moderators and administrators who inhabit the plethora of internet sites. I am on the receiving end of invective and ignominy, negative appraisals and accusations of nefariousness. I am assailed with acrimony, berating and blame, blasphemy and bickering, castigation and censure, condemnation and contumely, denunciation and diatribe, epithet and obloquy, philippic and reproach, revilement and sarcasm, scurrility and tirade, tongue-lashing and vilification. I am given more advice than I have received at home from those I love and who love me as well as my students and friends over a lifetime of seven decades.

The criticism I received as a student and teacher in the last half of the twentieth century goes on in pithy paragraphs and sentences, phrases and single words at the several thousand internet sites where my millions of words are now published---to chose what seems to me to be an apt word for the nature and extent of my internet contributions, the places that my words occupy, in the many coloured and black-and-white pixelated pages, the public spaces in cyberspace.

I am viewed as tactless, insensitive, awfully boring and told where to get off, where to go, where to go for further writing courses to help me in my literary vocation and avocation. Sometimes I am told why I should discontinue the practice of writing entirely. I am also told what a wonderful inspiration my writing is. Compliments and acclaim, flattery and praise, abound. These words of encomium and opprobrium that I receive, as I say, are really not much different than; indeed, are much the same as, the words many other writers get when their words are found between hard and soft covers.

I am not alone in receiving criticism. Even the writings of Shakespeare, the Bible and other major works in the western literary canon get great buckets of criticism poured on them from the generations which have come on the scene since the post-world-war-2 years, from those now 65 and over, and 65 and under, to select a convenient timeframe for most of those who offer to me their criticisms of my literary efforts and my opinions, my responses to what others write and the inevitable and myriad contentious issues that abound in cyberspace.

Most of those, though, who have come to inhabit the parts of the WWW where I post are the Y-generation. They were born between the mid-1970s to the first years of the 2000s. These generation-Y people are today's teens, 20s and 30s, the millennial generation, the net generation. Some say that generation-X are those born between 1974 and 1980. The fine-tuning of these generational labels gets a bit complex. The first generation who have grown-up with internet access, the years 1990 to 2010, have a wide range of personality constructs. These people are sometimes called the Z-generation and I would require a separate statement to discuss in sufficient detail their internet, their personality, typologies.

There are, though, some generalities about the generations I deal with which are helpful in an analysis and description. These generalities may help a person deal with the individuals one comes across at internet sites as I do, but my comments on them will be brief. I could benefit, as I go along here, from the assistance of one, Rob Cowley, affectionately known in publishing circles back in the seventies and early eighties as “the Boston slasher.” His editing was regarded in some circles as constructive and deeply sensitive. If he could amputate several dozen pages, several thousand words, of my explorations on the net with minimal agony to my emotional equipment I’m sure readers would be the beneficiaries. But, alas, I think Bob is dead.

I did find an editor, a copy-proofreader and friend who does not slash and burn but leaves one's soul quite intact as he wades through my labyrinthine passages, smooths them all out and excises undesirable elements. But this editor is in the late evening of his life and, after editing several hundred pages of my writing, he has tired of the exercise and so I am left on my own. Perhaps one day I may assume the role that Cowley exercised so well in his life in Boston as The Slasher. But, in the meantime and without my editor friend, I advise readers not to hold their breath waiting for me to do what is a necessary edit. I often edit the writing of others, but it is not an exercise I enjoy after having edited student work for more than three decades and my own writing for more than five.

The Process of Baha’i Review and Review By Others

After more than sixty years(1949-2011), then, of having my writing poured over by others; after nearly fifty years(1964-2011) of having my writing reviewed before its publication by Baha’i reviewing committees at national and local levels of Baha’i administration and its institutions and even by some individuals and groups at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa Israel; after trying to write in a way that would please various groups of people both within the Baha’i community and without by committees and colleagues, professors and tutors, students and teachers at a multitude of educational institutions---before my writing saw the light of day in some in-house publication or public newsletter, some magazine or journal, some newspaper or periodical, I have come to especially enjoy writing on the internet.

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Australia Inc, the nationally elected body by the Bahá'í community in Australia does not require writers like myself to have their writing reviewed before it goes onto the internet. The Review Office of the NSA of the Baha’is of the USA has given me permission to post my works on the internet, although they have advised that review is necessary if I want to place any of my writings in book form, in a hard or soft cover, for general and public consumption. My five volume, 2600 page autobiography, has found many a place in whole or in part on the world-wide-web. That same Review Office has reviewed this work, given me permission to place it on the internet but not between the covers of a book. There is much more I could add about the process of Baha’i review, but this short comment is sufficient for this discussion of the process of dealing with criticism.

Dealing With Criticism: An Answering Theology
Critical scholarly comments on my work as well as criticism raised in public or private discussions of less scholarly material, should not necessarily be equated with hostility. Questions and judgments, evaluations and critiques, are perfectly legitimate, indeed, necessary aspects of a person's search for an answer to an intellectual conundrum. Paul Tillich, that great Protestant theologian of the 20th century, once expressed the view that dealing with criticism, a process sometimes called apologetics, was an "answering theology.” I have always been attracted to the founder of the Baha'i Faith's exhortations in discussion to "speak with words as mild as milk," with "the utmost leniency and forbearance." This form of dialogue, its obvious etiquette of expression and the acute exercise of judgment involved, is difficult for most people when their position is under attack from people who are more articulate, better read and better at arguing both their own position and the position of those with whom they are in dialogue in some critical exchange at some thread at a site on the internet.

I am also aware that, in cases of rude or hostile attack, rebuttal with a harsher tone, that punitive rebuttal, may well be justified, although I prefer humour, irony and even gentle sarcasm rather than hostile written attack in any form. Still, it does not help an apologist to belong to those "watchmen" whom the prophet Isaiah calls "dumb dogs that cannot bark." In its essence criticism is often just another form of confrontation, an act of revealing one's true colours, of hoisting the flag, of demonstrating the essential characteristics of one's faith, of one's thought, of one's emotional and intellectual stance in life. “Dialogue should not mean self-denial,” wrote Hans Kung, arguably the greatest of contemporary Catholic apologists.

The standard of public discussion on controversial topics should be sensitive to what is said and how; it should be sensitive to manner, mode, style, tone and volume. Tact is also essential. Not everything that we know should always be disclosed; not everything that can be disclosed is timely or suited to the ears of the hearer to paraphrase closely one of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith’s more quoted passages.

To put some of this question of tact, and this topic of personal revelations another way, we don't want all our dirty laundry out on our front lawn for all to see or our secrets blasted over the radio and TV. Perhaps a moderate confessionalism is best here, if confession is required at all. In today’s print and electronic media it seems unavoidable even if only modestly. Much of internet dialogue, though, is far, far, below standards of even a reasonable modesty or literacy as posters “f,” “c” and “s” words abounding and making their way through discussions.

Often the briefest of phraseology, a succinctness that approaches sheer nothingness, and an inarticulateness that has more in common with grunts and sighs as well as whimpers and whims is found at internet sites. So often the language betrays a knowledge of basics deriving from the visual media and little reading. The eye, as one writer put it recently in what I thought was a clever turn of phrase, is so often quicker than the mind. Well, yes and no, I hasten to add on the complex subject of the print and electronic media. Perception and understanding based on the use of the print and electronic media is yet another too complex a subject to deal with here in even the briefest of ways.

Anyway, that's all for now. It's back to the spring winds of Tasmania, about 5 kms from the Bass Straight on the Tamar River. The geography of place is so much simpler than that of the literary, intellectual, philosophical and religious geography that some readers on the internet who engage in complex and not-so-complex discussions are concerned with. Even physical geography, though, has its complexities as those who take a serious interest in the topic of climate change and the worlds of biodiversity and related sciences are fast finding out. Whom the gods would destroy they first make simple and simpler and simpler. I look forward to a dialogue with someone, anyone who is inclined to respond to what I’m sure for some is this overly long post. Here in far-off Tasmania--the last stop before Antarctica, if one wants to get there by some other route than by air or off the end of South America--your response will be gratefully received.-Ron Price, George Town, Tasmania, Australia.

Ron Price
Updated On:
30 April 2011
(5000 words-circa)
----------------------FOOTNOTES--------------------------------------
The interwar years: 1919 to 1939
2 See Elizabeth Friedman’s response to: The White Goddess! from the November 18, 1993 issue of The New York Review of Books and Helen Vendler, “Laura (Riding) Jackson,” February 3, 1994.
3 Isaiah Berlin, (1) “Romanes Lecture 1970 on Turgenev: Fathers and Sons.;” and (2) “The Gentle Genius: Turgenev’s Letters selected, translated, and edited by A.V. Knowles
4Scribner’s” in The New York Review of Books, 2010.
4 For an interesting examination of this theme readers are advised to google a developing literature on the subject. One good article by Esther Milne, “Dragging Her Dirt All Over the Net: Presence, Intimacy, Materiality,” in Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol.2, No.2, December 2007.007,
5 Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, U. of Chicago, 1967, Vol.1, p. 6.
6 Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, Haifa, 1978, pp. 172-173.
7 The Bible, Isaiah, 56:10.
8 Quoted in Udo Schaefer’s, "Baha'i Apologetics," Baha'i Studies Review, Vol.10, 2001/2.
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