As most of you who have taken a class with me before know, I always stress how important it is to identify and isolate the central claims of a work. One of the indicators of good writing, in my opinion, is how effectively the author signifies her or his own main claims, so that the reader can see them. That helps us understand the point of the work as well as the author’s own position(s) in the debate.

Whether or not one agrees with his arguments (I do mostly, with a handful of significant objections), one can say that Carroll is a clear and straightforward writer, partly because he very clearly signals his main claims and his own positions.

Pages 8-9 is a hotspot of such claims, where Carroll all but offers a Cliff’s Notes edition of his book in his book:

The hypothesis that criticism is essentially evaluation grounded in reasons is the idea that organizes this book. [And this position will be developed in Chapter 1]

The leading idea here [i.e., the second chapter] is that criticism, properly so called, assists readers in discovering what is of value in the artwork before them.

According to me [i.e., this is my own position in the debate and is not necessarily a consensus view], the leading component of criticism is the operation of evaluation. The other activities in which critics engage–including description, contextualization, classification, elucidation, interpretation, and analysis–are hierarchically subservient to the purposes of evaluation. [This is the substance of chapter 3]

[In the] fourth and final chapter … I try to show that some criticism can be objective and to explain the grounds for objectivity with respect to the relevant critical practices. Much of that defense hinges on establishing the possibility of objective classifications of artworks.

So in these four lines, all grouped together and clearly signalled in the introduction, comprise a summary of his core argument and and outline of the structure of the book. How’s that for making it easy on us as readers!

And you should be underlining this stuff, drawing stars, ponies, rainbows, and Aladdin Sanes next to each of these.

BONUS INSIGHT: On page 4 Carroll writes,

I suspect there are a number of differences worth noticing between this book and other contemporary endeavors to canvas the domain of criticism. One difference is that many of those books are comprised of chapters devoted to expounding the rudiments of various theoretical schools of criticism, such as Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Frankfurt-style Critical Theory, or Derridean Deconstruction, or Deluezean Rhizome Theory.

He is referring, of course, to books like Barnard’s “shoe book”! So this passage, and the rest of the paragraph after this which I am too lazy to type up, not only outlines the differences between the shoe book and the Brillo book, but more importantly suggests practical ways that you as a reader should think about and/or read these two respective books.

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