The Best Critique? Make Something New

A portrait of the artist as a young crank

Sarah Smith

--

Thanks, I hate it. // Photo by Katie Gerrard on Unsplash

Is She Weird

When I was a teenager, I had a lot to say about how much certain things sucked. The fact that my high school marching band would, in all seriousness, hold a prayer before the halftime show? Sucked. My math teacher who routinely ignored the girls when we raised our hands to answer a question? Sucked. Titanic? Sucked, although to this day, I haven’t seen it. (I was, and am, beautifully skilled at forming opinions of things I haven’t seen.) Once I got my hands on Bust magazine, Bitch magazine, and package upon package of protointersectional feminist zines that went deep on the Michigan Women’s Music Festival’s transphobic nonsense (sucked), I got a whole new framework for describing the suckage.

I was, more or less, a tireless rant that only stopped to sing along with the Violent Femmes, pore over a dELiA*s catalogue, or eat Morningstar Chik’n Nuggets. Most of my sentences began thus: “Do you know what I really hate?”

Looking back on it now, I think this era of my life was a perfectly understandable one. Northern Appalachia isn’t the kindest place to grow up as a feminist art freak. Before I gained access to my critical vocabulary, I just sort of felt wrong all the time. It was incredibly powerful to be able to connect the dots between my sexist math teacher’s refusal to call on female students and his tendency to tell me I would look so much nicer if I smiled. I was outnumbered by people who, maliciously or not, kept the whole machine of small-town homophobia/shame/you name it rolling along; because I was so alone, I needed a powerful weapon on my side.

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Gonna Grow Up to Be a Debaser

In college, it was mandatory for English majors to take a class called Interpretation and Argument which, in spite of its rhetoric 101 name, was actually an introduction to literary and cultural theory. Oh, those were heady days: an introduction to Barthes and Derrida and Lacan and Marx and Butler and Heidegger and Gramsci and Zizek. Through the semester, we read theorists and then…

--

--

Sarah Smith

Novelist. Tarotist, poet, lazy Virgo. Nothing is real; magic is real. Writing is a way to see in the dark. sarahelainesmith.com, @braindoggies