Over on QueerJoe's blog, he has posted the following:
Early on, most on-line knitting communities tended to melt into the overall philosophy of the KnitList, which was "don't cause controversy", "don't rock the boat", "be nice"...Now, as a child I learned in the last line of Lewis Carroll's epic poem that a snark was a boojum, and considered the matter settled. But here we have an obvious use of the old word taking on a new meaning.
Then some blogs took up the call for more snarky, attitudinal commentary on knitting
What, then, is snark? Is it wit? Is it nastiness? Can one snark good-naturedly, or is it mean-spirited by definition?
As with any neologism, I doubt there's a hard-and-fast answer. But maybe I can zero in on the meaning as it occurs in the narrow sector of knitting blogs and fora.
The KnitList: Absence of Snark
If, as Joe avers, the KnitList was the primordial ooze from which sprang the blogs and message fora that now constitute the online knitting community, we can accept its core values as embodying the opposite of snark or non-snark.
With Joe as our guide, we witness the KnitList as an organization eschewing
These are the logical candidates:
- pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance,
- decent: socially or conventionally correct,
- courteous: exhibiting courtesy and politeness.
Snark as Alternative Value System
If snark, as a quality or perceived value system, was considered so incompatible with the KnitList that its advocates were inspired to break away and form their own list, we can logically surmise that snark would display attributes opposite those above. Those partial to snark would therefore welcome:
- self-expression over conformity
- unpleasant, unconventional, impolite (opposities of "nice").
While Joe, like any quick-witted gay man, has his moments, the generally accepted ne plus ultra of knitting snark is undoubtedly The Knitting Curmudgeon. Does it conform to our definition?
Here is Marilyn, the eponymous curmudgeon, exhibiting in one representative paragraph all of the attributes of snark. The topic is the term "Knitting Universe."
And those of you who knit, know the genesis of those words. Well, I find that concept offensive. Yes, it's true. I am offended. While I wouldn't put it in the same league as abuse of women and children, discrimination, instruments of mass destruction and other things that offend a great many of us, I still find the term odious. Why? Well, without risking a lawsuit, let me say that it takes big brass ones for one magazine to define The Knitting Universe as it pertains to the editorial staff and its bombastic, out-of-control publisher. Yeah, I know. I'll never work for them after this little essay. Ask me if I care.We have here controversy ("I am offended"), self-expression over conformity ("I'll never work for them...") and the employment of sentiments not within the realm of conventional politeness ("big brass ones," "Ask me if I care.").
We have, in short, a museum-quality example of snark.
Coexistence of Snark and Non-Snark
This cursory bit of pondering leads me to believe that snark can be defined as an entire value system, not simply a manner or speaking or a figure or speech.
And as the presence of only one value system would indicate a fascist regime, I would venture to say that the continued co-existence of snark and non-snark communities should be reassuring to both camps.
However, as with any value system, when snark is employed it will tend to encourage those who share it and alienate those who do not. This is perhaps the reason that snark-based blogs often draw dissenting commentary from those who lead non-snark lives, and vice-versa.
Conclusion: In Defense of Snark
Without wishing to enter (it's nearly midnight, for heaven's sake. am I nuts?) the larger argument of whether knitting and needlework are art or craft, I do wish to point out that the qualities of snark, as defined above, are those which delineate the "critical" aspect of any art form, be it painting, cinema, writing, or any other.
Viable, lasting art cannot be created in a critical vacuum. A world in which art is created according to a single, strict set of principles and policed for conformity seldom inspires works that outlive the moment of creation. Witness the state-backed operas and public artworks of the former Soviet Union, most of which now strike one, at best, as emotionally stillborn curiosities.
If an art is to progress, or even persist, history demonstrates time and again that a self-critical population is necessary to prevent sterility and vacuuity. Artistic "golden ages," such as the Renaissance and the explosion of jazz in the 1920s, often emerge when a community is radically re-evaluating its own identities and questioning established conventions.
It defies logic, but stasis and stability are often enemies of creativity. As André Gide wrote: "Greece banished the man who added a string to the lyre. Art dies of liberty, and thrives on restraint."
Without criticism, you have no art.
Without snark, you would probably have mostly ponchos and toilet paper covers.
Take your pick.