It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.I must have been fifteen then -- a sophomore. I don't remember any specifics, but I'm guessing this was my dad's way of telling me to "cool it" with the criticizing. Among my dad's other favorite pearls:
- Persistence and determination alone, are all that matter (the original was "Persistence and determination alone, are omnipotent," but I learned this one at age 9, and dad must've figured that was a pretentious word). --Calvin Coolidge
- Whiners and complainers are a detriment to society. --source unknown, possibly an original
- Look, if you're facing a difficult decision, just ask yourself, "Is it the right thing to do, or not?" --certainly an original
- We'll just outwork'em. --also an original
Small wonder, then, that I grew up to have a low tolerance for criticism... I suppose the only surprise is that I happen to be a critic-by-profession myself. And certainly there's some Freudian psycho-babble that accounts for that apparent act of rebellion.
Of course, as my title suggests, I've learned to believe that, sometimes, it is the critic who counts ("Hey, we should stop waterboarding people, stop bombing civilians, start helping hurricane victims sooner, and let people fuck & marry who they want to!). But I have simultaneously taken care to nurture an ongoing interest in the epistemology of the process of criticism: rather than "simply" asking what is wrong or right about a certain act or artistic production, I bother myself with questions about precisely how I know that criticism is warranted. In this way, I have assured myself that even if I am a critic by trade, I'm not only a critic... I try to be a critic who is slow-on-the-draw with his red ink and commentary. Talk about a sure way to repel a potential readership.
Here's the point: I admit that when I was 15, a sophomore, I thought memorizing Roosevelt's speech was simply something to do -- I didn't wonder at all why my dad suggested I memorize anything at all, not to mention this excerpt in particular. A lifetime later, I suspect my dad was prescribing just the medicine he thought I needed at the time. Or maybe he was prescribing just the medicine I needed at the time. Question: What do I (or "society") gain, if anything, when I willfully refrain from criticism? Was my dad just sick of hearing me talk?--or was his advice wise and useful?
In my twenties I developed the habit (literally!) of biting my tongue. Is it a bad psycho-symbological habit?