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Critique or Create? You Decide

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I love a good critique. In fact, critique made my life possible. Critique brought me into being. Critiques of heterosexuality and patriarchy, analyses that denaturalized male dominance and male-female pairings as right and normal, inspired my feminism and enabled me to come out as a lesbian. Critiques empowered me to leave the small town in Michigan where I grew up and forge a life different from the one I was born to live, a life with another woman, a life that resists heteropatriarchy.

As a lesbian and as a feminist, I have a lot invested in critique, and I confess, I continue to relish a good critique. Now, in my classes, I teach students about critique. I share with them some of the amazing pieces of critique that altered our world and our perceptions of the world. I celebrate words by the Radicalesbians, The Furies, Harry Hay, ACT UP, and dozens of others. Historical examples of critique help us to think critically about how people have used critique and how and where it is operational today.

In spite of my enthusiasm for critique, I have come to think of it as an intellectual trick. Fun and delightful, yes, but what comes after critique? Yes, patriarchy is bad. Yes, heterosexuality is hegemonic and problematic. Yes, yes, yes. But what is next? What do we say after the critique that identifies problems, shortcomings, limitations? After we recognize what does not work, how do we build lives that we want to live? After we critique, attack, and tear down, how do we create?

Creation is as challenging, as difficult, and as exciting as critique, but the two processes come from very different places. After critique, comes the difficult work to create and envision our lives anew. What is the work of creation? What is the labor of building something new?

Once I knew I was not going back to Saginaw, not finding a man to marry, not going to have children, not going to collect all of the things that people told me were an important part of life, were in fact the very things in life that bring happiness, once I rejected all of these things, the real work begins. How would I live my life? This one precious, wild life? How would I find and define new forms of happiness? How would I discern then create what I want as opposed to what I had been conditioned by society to want?

For me, critique is of little help for creation. In fact, I would argue, you can critique or create, not both. They both are very separate disciplines. This leads me to: How do we individually and collectively turn from critique to creation? This question for me burns in my mind as I teach my students, as I think about and revel in critique. I want to have both critique and creation, in spite of their very different impulses. I am interested in how we can appreciate critique, but direct our energy to creation.

What have you created today? What will you create tomorrow?