This blog isn’t wont to dole out dating advice. Thinking upon my own predicament trying to find romance, however, I realized that there’s something unique and highly peculiar about trying to date a critic.
By “critic”, I don’t just mean “film critic”, “food critic”, or any particular occupation. I mean someone who is genuinely critical, which shouldn’t be confused with that abused term “critical thinker”. Intellectuals may be brave, but they aren’t necessarily critics, for instance.
At his core, a critic is essentially a destructive person. Critics are Shiva. They have no respect for established traditions, boundaries, all the molehills we’ve spend generations accumulating, nor for our mores and accomplishments, including the critic’s own. The true critic is ready to abandon his entire life, in principle, were he to know deep down that it wasn’t the truth.
But what people don’t realize is that the critic’s destruction is never absolute, because the critic destroys the world according to certain standards, that is, particular assumptions and rules about how the destruction and the subsequent genesis should emerge. He maintains these standards because if he didn’t his destruction would be completely unrecognizable, and without recognition, it would be meaningless.
It’s not that people have to recognize those standards: just the opposite, since if the world recognized them then the jig would be up and the world’s destruction wouldn’t be complete. The trick is that the world has to recognize it’s own destruction and it can only do so through some standards, which is what the critic secretly supplies. Critics of critics, sometimes not actually critical themselves, point out these standards in critical articles as flaws in the critic’s argument, as unsubstantiated and underlying assumptions that must be exposed. In reality, the critic has been fully aware of them all along, but he doesn’t voice and defend them the way that a scholar or a journalist would write, “Albeit, the other party has…”, to be followed with, “That notwithstanding, they have…” If he did, the destruction would be exposed for the incomplete and fixed sham that it is.
Thus, the critic’s first dating dilemma: finding someone who can understand and handle that contradiction that the critic bears constantly.
But it’s not enough for the destruction in itself to be complete, or to have the illusion of being complete. For just as unrecognized destruction is meaningless, the standards that give it meaning have to be recognized eventually or else they would be meaningless, too. Yet as we’ve said before, the critic can’t open those standards up to the entire world. So what to do? The critic seeks a romantic partner, just one person (or maybe a few) that can recognize the secret standards and keep them secret. To be a critic in love is to be a villain with a partner in crime.
How is this any different from non-critics, though? Isn’t this need for recognition basically the same principle that any romance follows?
The difference lies in the nature of that need. The great majority of people’s social anxiety stems from a deeply seated fear that, beneath it all, they are outsiders and outcasts, and so they seek a fellow pariah to console them. Their romantic ideal is to “stand apart”, like a city upon a hill. A critic’s social anxiety on the other hand is completely the inverse, because the critic is always worried about being a perpetual insider, since he’s the only one who really understands what rules the world is being destroyed and recreated by. By the same token, the critic is subversive, never revolutionary. Remember that Socrates was murdered by the state for contaminating the minds of the youth, not for leading them in revolt.
Does the critic need another insider to recognize his standards? Yes, because of how recognition works. The word “recognition” comes from the Latin “cogito” (to think, to understand, to comprehend) and the prefix “re”, which implies repetition. Recognition isn’t just sight, it’s the rethinking and recomprehension of something that’s already been thought and comprehended. Namely, the thing outside of us that we comprehend when we recognize it is within us already.
So when the public recognizes the critic’s destruction, it means that they have a little bit of that destruction as well as its structure, its branches and foliage, within them, though they might be unaware of it. Recognizing the seeds of that destruction, however, demands someone else who has them as well. This necessarily means another critic and so another insider precisely because the roots are secret.
Now another difficulty lies in finding a fellow insider. Finding an outsider is easy enough, first because almost everyone is one and second because outsiders’ outside status by definition must be known to all. Insiders, however, are much fewer and, clearly, more secret. We can find outsiders outside the city walls, roaming in the fields. But how do you pick an insider from within the bustle of the market?
Moreover, one insider can’t just approach another and reveal the other’s insider status. When they do, their status is jeopardized because it’s under threat of being made non-exclusive. Thus the second major question with finding love as a critic: how do we approach other critics?
This threat of being revealed adds to the romantic pressure, and the critic who is revealed by another critic either has to unite with them or part ways completely. Herodotus tells us the story of Gyges, servant to the Lycian king, whose master wasn’t convinced that his court recognized the full beauty of his wife. The king leads Gyges behind the door of the royal bedchamber one night so that he can see the queen naked, but when the queen notices Gyges she says that he must either submit to execution or kill the king himself, for no two men can have seen the queen naked. Gyges murders the king, thus becoming king himself, and marries the queen.
Baudelaire once wrote that men seek to be two, but that the man of genius seeks to be one. The critic seeks to be one alright, but he can’t do it without uniting with another. His entire enterprise is based on a grand and secret hypocrisy that doesn’t need validation but rather genuine recognition. The critic lives in a state of sin, perhaps closer than anyone else to it; and so Baudelaire, who recognized that the sweetest love always has a little evil:
Pour châtier ta chair joyeuse,
Pour meurtrir ton sein pardonné,
Et faire à ton flanc étonné
Une blessure large et creuse,
Et, vertigineuse douceur!
À travers ces lèvres nouvelles,
Plus éclatantes et plus belles,
T’infuser mon venin, ma soeur!