Criticism is a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world – Mathew Arnold; (1822- 1888) Essays in Criticism
ENCAPSULATED in rhapsodic ebullience hallmarked by serendipity were Christopher Columbus on discovery of the Western Hemisphere, Luigi and Lucia Galvani on the theory of galvanism, Volta on the production of electric current by conduct of two dissimilar metals -and thus the invention of the battery, Faraday on Magnetism, Archimedes on his mathematical principles, Cyrus W. Field on his projection of the first Atlantic cable, William Penn the British Quaker who founded the colony of Pennsylvania, Leonardo da Vinci on Mona Lisa and others too numerous to mention.
In his poem “The Volunteer Day”, C. Lewis took an emotional and retrospective glance at the travails, trauma and tribulations of the volunteers of war for ancient England, “It was not Fraud or Foolishness, glory, revenge or pay! We came because our eyes could see no other way. There was no other way to keep man’s flickering truth alight; these stars will witness that our course burned briefer, not less bright”. So also is the altruistic zeitgeist of these inventors. They stood between Scylla and Charybdis, Critics and Kill –sports, but with dogged pertinacity, the punctiliousness of a Spaniard and Trojan perseverance, they were able to move mankind forward; critics were their best friends and their worst enemies in the journey.
Man is imperfect, perfection is nowhere within the purview of man –hence, imperfection is associated with man. Giving this state of imperfection –mistakes, defects, shortfalls, indispositions, and even death becomes a concomitant of man and his activities. Longfellow asserted that “No man is an Island unto himself”. In the light of this, social, political, cultural and educational engineering heightened a concatenation of events that gave rise to “The Society” and “The Social Contract.” In professions, men, women, students and critics contribute their quota towards ensuring a viable “social contract.” Ideally, the critic is the ‘eyed’ spectator who sees a better part of the game. He mirrors- in and mirrors-out activities through communication engineering, information technology and information management, seeing the world as a global village.
A critic should have a profound and all-embracing understanding of his profession and goings-on in the society and the world. This will enable him develop informed opinions and views. A critic, say in “Architecture” must have and know the nuts and bolts of the architectural profession, the basics of “Architectonics” – construction, designs, planning, framework,
style as well as History of designs. He should have hindsight, cognate experience, formal and informal training. He should be a master of situations and not situations mastering him.
Karl Popper a foremost authority on criticism asserts in his book “The Open Society and its’ Enemies”- chapters 22, 23 and 24 and Conjectures and Refutations” chapter 10 [Rout ledge and kegan Paul, 1963] that; “the institutionalization of criticism is the basic precondition of improving social and political theories and society” popper recognizes that politically, there are good and bad rulers and also good and bad critics, but that in any situation, criticism must be institutionalized. Which good critic will want to work under a bad or dictatorial ruler and vice versa? The courage or foolhardiness of the critic is brought to the fore here.
A good critic must espouse the good course to enable the society move forward. The Aristotelian concept of the pursuit of the greatest good for the largest number should be his diadem and garlands of honour with which he is festooned even unto death. Is there such a critic? “Few”. A critic is a human being and unless he is given the enabling environment he cannot appropriately deliver. Though many have climbed to the pinnacle of martyrdom in it such persons have changed the world for the better.
No critic would have liked to work against Hitler during the slaughtering of the Jews, Idi Amin Ðada of Uganda, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Stalin, Mobutu Seseseku, Gen. Sanni Abacha and Tsars of Soviet Russia etc.
Apart from dictatorship, another problem the critic face is lack of tools to do his work and democracy. But he should not develop, in Marxian dialectics, “An inverted attitude to an inverted world.” The profession and every facet of life are literally closed because there is no mirroring-out. There is communication breakdown as there is no way to get information except from government propaganda machinery and literary hirelings. Nobody knows what is going on except what they want you to know. Wherever information is hoodwinked, teleguided and unnecessarily classified, it precipitates information imperialism, news autocracy and the writer’s complex.
This first tool of a good critic, be it in philosophy, politics, Religion, Mathematics, the Arts and the sciences etc is the “fact.” Yes, the raw facts. Not deductive and speculative reasoning, researched and proven truth. This is the one basis and inalterable plinth on which the “Art of Criticism” rotates. A critic must be an effervescence of information and not exiguous of it. He should not hide under the “capacious umbrella” of generalization, social forces, livid analogy, Kierkegaard’s existentialist determinant, bias and subjectivity.
If he appears as a newspaper columnist, commentator, an arbiter, wine connoisseur, book reviewer, arts pundit, an expositor in a
colloquium, seminar and symposia, an evaluator, a judge of formal standard, professional analyst and an authority on the subject then he is a critic.
But when a critic resorts to being a paid hack, pen-outrage, an animadversionist, bad press, brickbats, disparaging flak, querulous fault –finder, a detractor, Momus and stricture-possessed, then, there is a paradigm shift and normative gap in the practice, he is a bad critic, but in a bad society he is a “Heroic Critic”-the plural impasse.
The French philosopher Rene Descartes asked himself “what is that we know certainly? The answer is obvious. But he asked conclusively that he was certain he could think and from that, he inferred his existence- cogito ergo sum (I think: therefore I exist). So also, do I wish to state with unmistakable exactitude that society has bad and good critics, but a pot-pouri of bad governments and the larger society made them what they are?
Since perfection is outside the reach of man, what is the middle of the road approach and personality of the “Dynamic critic” of the modern era that will be able to move society forward? It is an unacceptable over simplification to assert that he is either good or bad. No, that betrays uncompromising intransigence. He should be near-good or near bad not perfectly bad or perfectly good.
As no criticism possesses the entire qualities one ideally expects in it, beyond a certain point, the choice between them is a matter of individual discretion. Objectivity or partiality therefore is not the only or even always the highest virtue in criticism. If a discipline is dominated by a single body of assumptions that its professionally socialized practitioners unconsciously assume to be self-evidently true, there is much to be said for advancing or accepting an extreme criticism in order to stir them into critical self re-examination and to encourage a radical reappraisal of the concept of the tools of the discipline; since objectivity and impartiality are achieved as a result of the clash of subjectivity and partiality, falsehood and extremism often make most worthwhile contributions to the discovery of “truth”.
Why do men criticize? There are two schools of thought in this regard. One says men generally do what they do because of selfish interest and the other says for the general good.
In the psychological theory of human interest and action as initiated by Hobbes, refined by Locke, and perfected by the thinkers of the French Enlightenment. Man, it was argued, was essentially a practical being, to make the world a habitable place.
Reason, it was argued further, was set in motion by Human desires; indeed, it was created by desires, so that the more a man desired the greater the stimulus he had to think and therefore the greater his reason. As Voltaire in his “Treatise of Metaphysics” remarked, “the passions are the wheels which make all these machines go round”. Vauvenargues reflected the same attitude in his “introduction to knowledge of Human mind”. When he concluded that the true nature of man did not lie in reason but in passions. Helvetius observed in his “Treatise of man” that reason in itself was inserting and was set in motion only by desire.
Bentham argued further, that, of all Human passions, the concern for personal interest was the most powerful, most important, most uniform, most lasting and most general. Adam Smith corroborates this view in his belief that it is natural for man to prefer himself to mankind; indeed, he argued that this desire comes with man from the womb and never leaves until we die.
It is clear, that, man acts out of personal interest, but in some cases, man acts out of a genuine desire to improve- his kind and move the world forward.
In the entire critic’s endeavours, let him allow conscience, nurtured by truth to be his guiding light, Shakespeare agrees thus “To thine ownself be true, and it must follow as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man”, for it is only this that can salvage the critic from the “plural impasse” and lay bare the pluralistic relativism of criticism and critics .
Chief Gbinije is of Mandate Against Poverty, MAP, Warri