Critics are perhaps most to be pitied, for they produce no art of their own but rather exist to limit expression. While they may lift some art up, they are most in their element when they tear art down.
The irony is not lost on me that in pointing this out I have become a critic of critics. Perhaps criticism is different from serving as a critic, for whom criticism is a lifestyle. Some things are, in fact, rightly criticized. Some things must be brought into the light of day and exposed for what they are – but this is not the function of a critic, is it?
In what areas of our own lives do we serve as critics, and how might we change that?
The problem with how most people approach scripture and other mythical stories is perhaps best illustrated in the clip below from The Bird Cage.
Anyone can read a selection from any written account and parrot back what the action was in the story. The problem is that action doesn’t always convey the meaning that lies underneath it. The dancer in the above clip interprets standing still to be standing “like an idiot.” Armand tries to convey the meaning under the action – the excitement of Martha Graham, Madonna, or others.
If you want to understand mythology, it’s not enough to describe the action because the meaning lies under the action. For example, the Christian scriptures tell us that when Jesus was crucified there was an earthquake. If you understand this to be a description of a geological event, you miss the point. What the writer is trying to say, at the very least, is that this was an Earth shaking and shattering event. The problem with literal misinterpretation is that, by remaining on the surface of the account, truth hinges on whether or not the superficial event actually happened – and the point of the story is lost.
To do this work takes time, and we have to sit with whatever scripture we are studying as we would a poem or a painting. It will reveal its meaning to us when we are ready, and not a moment before.