Mistakes in the Texts

Instead of trying to find mistakes in the texts, I suggest we take the point of view that our authors created these apparent “contradictions” in order to get readers like us to ponder more interesting questions.

Michael S. Roth


  1. A little further on: “Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many, means being critical.”

  2. Sheesh, this is so much what I’ve been thinking about: “The skill at unmasking error, or simple intellectual one-upmanship, is not totally without value, but we should be wary of creating a class of self-satisfied debunkers — or, to use a currently fashionable word on campus, people who like to “trouble” ideas. In overdeveloping the capacity to show how texts, institutions or people fail to accomplish what they set out to do, we may be depriving students of the chance to learn as much as possible from what they study.”

    1. I have been attempting to learn the basics of being thoughtful about and engaging with others ideas without obliterating them.

      It is possible to blame the tendency toward an excessive focus on critique on history; in particular, some this may have been born with modernism. In the early 20th century, even as it presented modernist works in its pages, the literary journal New Age was known for its critiques and counter-manifestos of modernism. One illustration is a 1914 piece criticizing the Imagist movement headlined, “Let Derision Be Our Welcome.” http://library.brown.edu/cds/mjp/pdf/ArdisModernism.pdf

      The current manifestation of this phenomenon among scholars seems to be related to what Geert Lovink calls “The Will to Exegesis.” http://www.e-flux.com/journal/hermes-on-the-hudson-notes-on-media-theory-after-snowden/

      Our culture and times demand a considered response to the world around us. But there has to be a way to avoid the kneejerk criticism of all that has come before (and nascent ideas) and yet not fall into blithe acceptance of, for example, memes of popular culture or the technological sublime.

      Wendy Hui Kyong Chun has defined critique as “not attacking what you think is false, but thinking through the limitations and possibilities of what you think is true.” https://twitter.com/whkchun/status/395134730024153088 Chun’s idea could be seen as the kindler, gentler version of critique. Or at least one that leaves the object of critique somewhat intact. Personally, I am going for that.

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