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  • Critical Emoticons
  • Lynn Z. Bloom (bio)

April is no longer the cruellest month; all months, all days and nights are equally taxing. We live in a precarious era, our economy gnawed to the bone by the rapacious carnivores of international finance. Zombie banks stalk the blighted landscape. We work, as we live, in a Waste Land. We have more, ever more students to teach, papers to grade, committees to endure. Wages are frozen, sabbaticals cancelled. We, especially the tenured faculty—ingrate drones of academic enclaves increasingly out of touch with the real world, as newspaper editorials proclaim—should suck it up, stop our bellyaching, roll up our sleeves and work even harder to earn our ill-gotten gains. Yet within the academy, we are still expected to publish, for therein lies our claim to glory, and our institution’s reputation.

Because we have more work to do in less time, literary criticism, our favorite activity in an era kinder, gentler, more capacious, has to be speeded up if it is to be done at all. Gone is the time when we could devote whole days to putting in punctuation, others to taking it out, months to perfecting the perfect paragraph, the rapier riposte that would flay our opponents alive while demonstrating that, ever so subtly, of course—“I’m smarter than you.” Better yet, “I’m smart and you’re not.” (Feel free, dear Reader, to insert names of other critics, other readers—though not, of course, your own.) We have to keep cranking it out to keep on keeping up our reputations.

In order to go with the flow without drowning as we swim, I propose an economical system of literary criticism adapted, of course, from that fount (and, I might add, font) of all wisdom, the Internet. In times trying and tumultuous, vexed and vexing, we simply don’t have the energy or [End Page 247] the leisure to compose—let alone read—the labyrinthine discourse of the deconstructionists, Foucauldians, New Historicists, queer theorists, social constructionists, postcolonialists, and other postmodernists, whose 150-word sentences (miniature essays in themselves) require world enough, and time, to unpack, offload, ingest, digest, and otherwise process—and postprocess.

Having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed several schemes of critical reform, I propose (with all due modesty) that henceforward—pending a dramatic upsurge in the DJA (a.k.a. Dow Jones Average)—critical commentary should be conveyed through expressive symbols, economical and to the point, rather than through time-consuming, mind-wearying critical discourse. These symbols have the advantage of transparency, however déclassé this may seem after years of skulking about in the cloak of criticism. Their—dare I say cute?—squiggles make overt the emotion deeply embedded in most criticism, but hitherto seldom acknowledged. For simplicity’s sake, I call these symbols critical emoticons.

Critical Emoticons: A Definition

Critical emoticons: An emoticon is, in e-mail communication, a portmanteau word for “emotional icon.” Yes, icons have feelings too, asserts the American Heritage Dictionary, defining the emoticon as “A sideways facial glyph used in e-mail to indicate an emotion or attitude, as to indicate intended humor [ :-) ].” An emoticon is also—surprise!—called a smiley [:^ )] even when the emotion it conveys is sad [:^ ( ] or angry [>: ( ].

The use of emoticons in literary criticism has numerous advantages. As the days of critical wine and roses dwindle down to a precious few, critical emoticons provide a cheap and easy (substitute if you must, quick and dirty) means for streamlining our critical commentary. This economical (dare I say emotical?) expression and delivery of emotional judgment allows us critics to finally dare to say what we really mean in contexts hitherto dominated by indirection and obfuscation. The blazing sunshine of clarity [:^ )] promises to illuminate avenues of murk, make pellucid the usual critical nuances, appeal to the obtuse [:^\], and revivify the jaded [:-l]. How can we lose [:^ )]?! Thus from the sincerity of my heart, having no other motive than the good of the critical community by advancing our trade and giving some pleasure to the classe écriture, I proffer the following complex of emoticons for your critical delectation [;^D]! Bon appetit! [End...


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