L. Timmel Duchamp posts extracts from Brian Attebery’s Pilgrim Award acceptance speech:
My third discovery about writing is that it only works when I force myself to ask the hard questions. That’s especially true when writing about something I care deeply about– passion has to be tempered and tested by critical thought. Otherwise it does become a mere exercise in political or aesthetic orthodoxy (and I think aesthetic correctness is more harmful than the political variety). When I look back at my early papers…the problem is not that they’re badly written or that they misread the material. It is that they don’t probe deeply enough into their own–which is to say, my own–assumptions and reading practices. I didn’t ask hard enough questions.
But what exactly is a hard question?
Well, that one is.
I believe that when we study literature, we are never studying just the literary work itself. Instead, we’re examining our own interaction with the text. That is difficult because it means bringing to consciousness the very structure of consciousness, which is the business of theory. Psychological theory, political theory, feminist theory, semiotic theory: these all have to do with making the invisible patterns of thought and culture more visible, so that they can be challenged.
And (unrelatedly) Andrew Wheeler quotes WH Auden:
“One cannot review a bad book without showing off.”