Concerning critique and criticism

In a recent thread over at the UFO Updates Facebook page unwinding under a notice of Jacques Vallée’s and James Fox’s having recently appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast, I chimed in in harmony with one commenter who drew attention to the grave flaws with Vallée’s and Aubeck’s Wonders in the Sky, adding Vallée’s and Harris’ Trinity: The Best Kept Secret was as bad if not worse. Another commenter took exception, remarking: “Why build up when it’s so much easier to tear down?”

I found this comment discomfortingly unfair. Anyone who takes the time to read what I have written about Trinity in particular and Vallée’s work in general will, if they read attentively and with a modicum of understanding, percieve I am at all points charitable, at all points straining to present Vallée’s views as accurately and fairly as I can and, only once I have presented them as I understand them and as strongly as I can, do I then venture to either remark their implications or flaws in reasoning. I challenge anyone interested to find passages here at Skunkworks where I depart from this practice and to leave a comment specific to the substance of my discourse.

Some readers here have conflated criticism with critique, destructiveness with Destruktion (deconstruction). Criticism, at its most excessive, descends to fault-finding, and one unconcerned with grasping the criticized’s position accurately or at its most persuasive. Debunkery is an example of this kind of criticism, an approach I have defended, for example, Vallée’s writing against. Nevertheless, when Vallée’s writing has been less than accurate, I have criticized it on those grounds, but far more respectfully than others. But much more often what I engage in here at the Skunkworks is critique: the probing of the presuppositions and implications of an author’s position. A most recent example of the latter is my essaying a particular blind spot in Vallée’s Control System Hypthesis, especially its implications when read in combination with some passages from Passport to Magonia. Who sees this argument as merely destructive or dismissive fails to either grasp the argument or take it seriously.

And if there is anything at work here it’s my taking the authors I engage—Jacques Vallée, Diane Pasulka/Heath, Jeffrey Kripal, and George Hansen, among others (and, yes, even Avi Loeb…)—seriously. I challenge my critics, anyone who finds the thinking here at Skunkworks merely destructive, facilely dismissive, to find any other reader of these authors’ works as scrupulous or charitable. As I have observed, in some circles these authors can do no wrong; in others, no right. Neither stance does their conjectures, thinking, and labours justice. Only a painstaking, vigilant reading that is dialectical, i.e., that both discerns and uncovers the truth of their positions while at the same time the conditions, limits, and troubling implications of that truth can be said to do their work justice, to take it seriously.

As I responded to the commenter whose remark spurred this post: it’s not easy to tear down—something solidly built. Of course, such wanton demolition is not what we’re up to here at these Skunkworks…

2 thoughts on “Concerning critique and criticism

  1. Here here! If I might extend the thought a bit … as I’m fond of saying, following Deleuze: you cannot really and truly offer a critique if it’s not done from a place of caritas — charity. Which is love. Ironically, and perhaps counterintuitively, the best of critiques disclose the analyst’s profound love for what it is they’re critiquing. Criticism as opposed to critique perhaps lacks this dimension of caritas. But it is love which compels the critique to push its object into the domain of truth — something beyond even accuracy (the flatness of fact). Critique desires the object to attain to truth; criticism desires its nullity. And to desire an object be true is a sign of love…

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    1. “Critique desires the object to attain to truth; criticism desires its nullity.” You said it.–At the same time, to think and write very speculatively and roughly, I wonder even in the murderousness of what’s called criticism here there isn’t a perverse (sadistic?) “love” or eros or libido at work, too. The _energy_ of some critics belies an investment (now there’s a turn of phrase demanding reflection if not critique…) that hints at a fascination with the criticized, a fascination or obsessiveness that, were the criticized as null as the critic would have it, would be absent…

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