RESPONSE TO CRITICISM: LAURA RIDING
Early in the new millennium I began to receive criticisms of my prose and poetry. Some of those are found here. In 1936, right at the start of the Baha’i teaching Plan, Laura Riding wrote to a correspondent, "I believe that misconceptions about oneself that one does not correct where possible act as a bad magic…." That "bad magic" has been at work on the reputation of Laura (Riding) Jackson for many, many years. One of the criticisms leveled at her in her later life, and repeated by Dr. Vendler (who predictably finds her, in this, "more than a little monomaniacal"), was that she "spent a great deal of time writing tenacious and extensive letters to anyone who, in her view, had misrepresented some aspect, no matter how minute, of her life or writing." It is true that despite advanced age and failing health, she continued to the end her vigorous (and one might even say valiant) attempt to halt the spread of misconceptions about herself, but the "bad magic" was too powerful to be overcome. (Incidentally, that was the view of "magic" held by a woman who has been accused of witchcraft.)
Why was she so scrupulous in her attempts to correct misconceptions, "no matter how minute," of her life and writing? Because she recognized the importance of details to the understanding of human character. "The detail of human nature is never a matter of infinitesimals," she wrote in an essay published in 1974. "Every last component of the human course of things is a true fraction of the personal world, reflecting a little its general character." –Elizabeth Friedman, "Letter About Laura (Riding) Jackson," The New York Review of Books, 3 February 1994.
My approach is more diverse. Sometimes I ignore the comment; sometimes I am tenacious and write an extensive response; sometimes I write something brief and to the point. I certainly agree with Riding that we should not be judged by some infinitessimals. After three or four years of written and critical feedback it hardly amounts to much that is of any significance. But I thought this personal comment here would be a useful summary position.
10 March 2007
Updated for this:
1 February 2008