In his Norton Lecture series Poetics of Music, composer Stravinsky explains how he creates a symphony from silence:
“I remember that I have chords, meters, timbre, texture, and dynamics at my disposal, and I can set things down and close off false routes and then the composition comes together.”
Criticism is a practice of telescoping, zooming in and out, often at the same time. Like an engineer piecing together his machine, our criticism entails not only this exploded view but also a fully assembled perspective. We learn how the form not only creates the meaning, but is the meaning.
We experience a work as a whole when it calls us furiously to action, makes us simply happy to be a live, or, in Kafka’s words, “[serves] as an ax for the frozen sea within us.” I became an English major because I read a poem that used one syllable words to express fifty syllable emotions.
Always remember why you were drawn to reading. Remember that all criticism comes from this sort of love. Our gut human reaction to a work counts for just as much.