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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Citing other critics involves a certain rhetorical acumen. For example, if the ideas of the critics you cite are more interesting than your own, then you are in trouble, because the reader will tend to focus on ideas of other critics and view you as an amanuensis. On the other hand, you can't pick banal quotes either, unless you are taking issue with their banality. If you agree with other critics, then you can bring them in for back-up. If you are proposing something controversial, then it is good to have some other authority on your side. "See, it's not just me who's saying this..." On the other hand, it is also useful to have a critic who is sort of half-way right, whom you can agree with and then correct. Maybe someone has a very harsh opinion of something. You can cite that opinion, and seem less harsh yourself, distancing yourself from that position while at the same time putting it out there.

In short, citation brings into play a complicated dynamic of authority, competition, novelty. The point here is to be self-conscious about how you deploy other critics' writing. What are you doing by quoting someone else?

Establishing what the critical consensus is.

Finding support for something that your audience might not agree with.

Defining the position with which you disagree, either partially or wholly.

Establishing contextual information.

If you know why you are citing then you can figure out how to cite.

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