One case against critics was made, plaintively and memorably, by Dave Eggers, in a 2000 interview in The Harvard Advocate. Here’s a bit of what he said:
Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic, and I wish I could take it all back, because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a [expletive] of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, this is what matters. What matters is saying yes.
I’m a terrific admirer of Eggers’s (who several years ago, I should note, contributed the introduction to a short book of mine), and part of me loves this speech. It’s rousing. It’s like something from the end of a version of “Rudy,” set in an indie bookstore. I can imagine it on a T-shirt.
At risk of ambushing him for something he said more than a decade ago, however, most of me deplores it. Eggers is arguing in uplifting tones for mass intellectual suicide. When a work of art makes you feel or think things, he suggests, keep those things to yourself. He is proposing a zombie nation, where wit and disputation go to die. A place no thinking person above the age of 7 would want to spend an afternoon. Everyone would, on the up side, get a gelato.
Here, from the very same Harvard Advocate interview, is Eggers demonstrating how, as Garner puts it, Eggers wants us to keep it to ourselves when “a work of art makes you feel or think things”:
Was she aware that The Flaming Lips had composed an album requiring the simultaneous playing of four separate discs, on four separate CD players? Was she aware that the band had once, for a show at Lincoln Center, handed out to audience members something like 100 portable tape players, with 100 different tapes, and had them all played at the same time, creating a symphonic sort of effect, one which completely devastated everyone in attendance? I went on and on to her about the band’s accomplishments, their experiments. Was she convinced that they were more than their one appearance with Jason Priestly? She was.
Maybe Garner is writing for the “zombie nation” audience. Maybe he imagines we’re all too gelato-sated to do a Google search, to care about context, to snicker when we notice that he beat the crap out of an imaginary Dave Eggers.