Thanks to the Jackson County Library Foundation for hosting New York Times critic at large Sam Anderson this week. And thanks to Sam Anderson for terrific presentation.
Anderson talked about what criticism is and why it’s so important. Criticism, for him, is noticing, assessing, and positioning oneself (it’s a triad that makes me think of Charles S. Peirce’s semiotic). Viewed this way, he says, life is criticism, engaging with the stuff of culture in a spirit of curiosity and equal partnership. Curiosity—wonder even—is part of the ethics of criticism and moves the critic beyond trite fault-finding, overspecialization, or feuding with other writers.
Anderson also talked about his process—from continuously analyzing sentences to reviving the lost art of writing marginalia in everything he reads (I feel guilty now for fetishizing my books) to the rationale for his imitative (iconic, in the older sense) reviews, which not only assess a book but channel its prose and energy. His literary shoulder-looker-overs: E. B. White, James Thurber, Martin Amis, and David Foster Wallace and Nicholson Baker.
And he gave props to Oregon, where his journalistic origin story lies. His SOU experience was writing for the Siskiyou, reading through the Hannon Library and its sometimes spineless books, free-writing with Craig Wright, featuring writing with Terry Martin, and studying Haruki Murakami with Chuck Ryberg. And he ended with a special tribute to his SOU mentor, the late Ed Versluis, who sparked Sam’s critical instinct. There’s more than a little bit of Ed Versluis in Sam.