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SXSW 2012: Emily Nussbaum, Linda Holmes, James Poniewozik On Tweeting Your Criticism

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The SXSW panel, "Arts Criticism 140 Characters At A Time," was led by NPR's "Monkey See" editor, Linda Holmes, New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum, Time magazine critic James Poniewozik, and blogger Film Crit Hulk!.

The conversation between Holmes (moderator), Nussbaum, Film Crit Hulk! from Badass Digest, and Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik revolved around how arts criticism can exist within Twitter.

Twitter is a place where people generally express extremes -- this is the greatest thing ever or the worst thing ever, or a strongly voiced "Meh," Poniewozik said.

So what works well as a discussion on Twitter?

You can find other people who are deeply engaged in the same topic, and those are valuable ways to tease out your thinking, Holmes said.

Poniewozik agrees -- it's a medium where you can test the waters. But sometimes, it may be that thing that's a really regrettable thing to express -- aka, the career-ending tweet, the tweet that could end everything in a second, Nussbaum said, noting how tempting that can be. "You feel this perverse pride when something gets massively retweeted."

On a smaller scale, Twitter can kind of be a self-check for a critic in this way, Hulk added -- a place where someone could tap you on the shoulder and say, hey, you're being ridiculous here.

The conversation steers toward how Twitter is misunderstood as a medium. Jonathan Franzen's objection to Twitter is that it's too short. But Poniewozik disagrees -- it's like saying the novel is short because it's made up of sentences. Nussbaum nods: "A tweet is a short thing, but a feed is a very long and potentially very nuanced description of what somebody is talking about."

The problem is, it's single tweets that get retweeted, Holmes said.

It's one of those give and take things, Nussbaum said, but you gain a lot from it, too. She sheepishly quotes Clive Thompson's coined phrase "ambient awareness" (sheepish, because Thompson is Nussbaum's husband), about the way in which Twitter followers start to feel each others' presence "around" them. You have an ability to sense all of the different parts of the person, in an individual tweet, which is a polished, poetic writing, but also have a link to the longer piece (people's profiles).

Poniewozik places Twitter in the line of new criticism, starting with legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael's revolutionary insertion of herself into her criticism.

"She probably would have killed it on Twitter," he says.

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