Bryan Sentes isn't impressed with Michael Lista’s review of Tim Lilburn’s Assiniboia (my earlier post here). If I understand him correctly, he thinks Lista trashed the poems without bothering to understand them. Worse, that such negative reviewing “hardens positions” rather than “expanding and quickening literary awareness”—the latter, according to Sentes, being the real goal of criticism. I have three points to make. First, it's precisely because Lista draws on Lilburn’s own theories that his defrocking of his book rises to the level of criticism. Second, it's precisely because Lista has spent so much time thinking about those theories that he is able to dress his doubts in sentences that are crisp, coherent and immensely nuanced. In other words, if I admire Lista's "articulate, high-spirited" prose it's because it is proof that Lista did his homework. There are plenty of well-written "evaluatively polemical" reviews that I think are total bullshit. Third, Sentes is right: criticism for me exists to jolt re-evaluations. There are, of course, valuable critical practices that don’t factor in that duty. You can, like Seamus Heaney, turn your subjectivity squarely on itself and scrutinize the reasons you do what you do. You can, like Stephen Burt, play devil’s advocate with your own partiality and train yourself to be an appreciationist. But man, there’s nothing like watching an informed reviewer weaponize their skepticism and attack with suavity—it’s what criticism was invented to do.