Archive for August, 2009

Defining Kritik vs. Practicing Kritik

Posted in Manifestoes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2009 by Scott Odekirk
my eyesWhat does it mean to “kritik” in debate?
The word kritik, like many words in debate, is taken from another context and made meaningful uniquely for our game. To really understand what a kritik is you have to see it in practice, or better yet, you could practice it. For me a kritik cannot agree with the decision-making frame of fiat. The first kritik was based on this idea (Mike Hester, another author of this blog, will write about the first argument called a kritik later). Too often, kritiks are explained as linear disadvantages with “complicated alternatives” that “counterplan in” uniqueness. This view is pushed heavily on the Wikipedia page devoted to the kritik. If this blog accomplishes anything, I hope it is at least a counter to the crap posing as information on that wiki page. Feel free to check out the drivel at Whoever wrote this is clearly a Cointelpro agent ( In any case, to frame Ks in these terms (I will hereby refer to this disad-counterplan way of looking at the K as the “assimilationist view”) already cedes too many taken-for-granted assumptions. The assimilationist view usually sees the K as testing the affirmative at the level of “what the world looks like after the plan passes,” much like a disad does. The assimilationist view expects Ks to “weigh” alongside traditional DA impacts, which has lead to the “this justifies nuclear extermination” line of argument. The assimilationist view treats the “K alt” as a sweeping use of “attitudinal fiat” in which we evaluate the alternative as if everyone in the world adopted the mindset of the criticism. This “alt-centered” approach to the K frames the debate in terms solvency (which is good for the aff), plan passage, and traditional impact calculus. This “utopian alt” reading makes the K highly susceptible to permutation and the ever-dreaded “alt-uniqueness-doublebind.” Most importantly it keeps the judge focused on meta-strategic decision-making (i.e. how best to solve problems at a societal level). On my view, any K which allows itself to be framed in such a manner is not actually a K at all. At this stage I will forward a basic, and provisional, definition of “the K”: an argument which criticizes the core assumptions of the affirmative in which the impacts are weighed outside the fiat frame. Undoubtedly this definition will change for me tomorrow, but this is mainly due to the dynamic and fluctuating nature of the K. Ultimately I privilege a frame-centered, rather than an alt-centered, view of the kritik (more on “working the frame” to come). The K does not gain strength from its definition as some arguments do. Just by defining the parts of a DA we can see its beauty. Part of its brilliance comes from its clarity and logical consistency (see Adrienne Brovero’s lecture on the Politics DA, it blew me away). The K, on the contrary, operates less by definition and more by practice. For the K: Doing Is Better Than Saying (more on this in later posts, from many different authors). This blog seeks to make the K rather define it; we seek to practice the K rather than explain it or figure it out.
How do I practice… practicing the K?
Really it comes down to one sentence, one fundamental premise, if you will. It goes like this:
Take up
The K is about taking up perspectives. The K debater seeks out new and different perspectives to take up and try on. We must be willing, when taking up different paradigms, to look out from each perspective at an entirely different world (see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). It is only when we do this that we can begin to perceive how views born from different methods of scholarship fundamentally clash. Even to defeat the K we must be willing to take up differing perspectives. All of the best framework debaters can only come up with successful responses at the second level of the debate when they have considered the critical arguments they face on their own terms. Those who are unwilling to take alternative perspectives up are waiting for the slaughter in a debate universe that includes the kritik.
Take up reading
The best debaters who run the K (and for that matter most of the best debaters) are at least perceived to be well read. Becoming well read cannot happen simply by reading online articles. One of my problems with the shift towards electronic debate is that it seems to undervalue books (here is where the e-innovators cry out in disgust and cite the effectiveness of questia). You have to read books to really become a well-versed and intelligent reader. Books are more in depth, they go into more detail, and they are supported by more research. It takes a lot more analytic knowledge (more on this later as well) to figure out a book than to figure out an article. If you want to get smarter, read a book. If you want to get better at explaining your Biopower K, read a book by Foucault. And there is nothing like the dead tree copy, trust me. And this isn’t about cutting cards. Reading a book helps you get smarter, which assists you in a K debate a lot, but it also provides you interesting examples and anecdotes that you may never cut but might be just the thing you need to explain a tough concept in the 2nc cross-ex or hammer down the case turn when you don’t have a specific card. Plus, a lot of our args are old; sometimes you need paper books to find them. Even if you don’t believe me, read a book.
Take up reading and writing
Writing is a skill too often overlooked by debate. Consider that there are two forms of knowledge: synthetic and analytic. Synthetic knowledge is all about experience; it is based on what we observe in the world. Our usual preparation focuses heavily on synthetic knowledge. When we cut cards we gather facts and quotations that provide evidence for how the status quo is and what it could become. Conversely, analytic knowledge is more like logic. This type of knowledge is about our understanding of how arguments and evidence interrelate. We use our analytic knowledge more in the construction of a file than the gathering of cards. This is also the form of knowledge most used in a debate round. Analytic knowledge helps us to better explain and synthesize our arguments; it helps us compare our arguments to the opposing ones. Writing helps us cultivate, more directly, our analytic knowledge. As a K debater writing skills can be the difference between a good speech and a bad one. Ks often times try to communicate complex ideas in the face of ready-made and well-trained concepts. In order to do this we must be skilled with turn-of-phrase, encapsulation, and rhetoric. A debater with writing skills can make intricate propositions about the meaning of life seem simple enough to vote on. Try this: write an essay about your argument, make it long, make it heavy with citations, and ask an English teacher to proofread it. Try this (one of my new favorites), the “Explain a Book Drill”: read a book, almost any book, find somebody and explain it to them in 7 minutes exactly, find another person, explain it to them in 10, find another person, explain it to them in 4, read another book, repeat.
Take up reading and writing for the purpose of revolutionizing debate

Some people I greatly respect disagree with me on this, but, I think any good K debater has to have revolutionary purpose. This can take many forms; the words revolutionary and purpose are laden with much baggage and a wide array of interpretations. That is ok. I have seen successful debaters who were radically committed to humor and others who tried to make debate a space for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is not to say that a good K debater ought not to be motivated by winning. Without the prospect of winning and losing we wouldn’t be here. But the choice to run K arguments (as your primary focus) must also be inspired by something other than winning. If all you care about is winning than there are host of arguments that are more marketable and have a more proven track record (once again I will direct you to Brovero’s DA lecture). This is also not to say that you have to care, or be some bleeding heart, a gamesplayer could be motivated to be a K debater by an unexplainable commitment to being different, or to see if something that shouldn’t win, can. In terms of debate, curiosity is not far from revolutionary purpose. In any case, some part of the good K debater wants to leave debate a little differently than it was before they started speaking.

Take up reading and writing for the purpose of revolutionizing debate, with the full knowledge of failure.

Look, having purpose is one thing, but we have to know our role. The assimilationist view is so prevalent because it comes from debate’s most basic nature. Debate accommodates; it continually tries to incorporate difference within its beautiful notions of clash (this is debate’s strength and why I love it). As Foucault taught us, all resistance becomes the natural compliment of the thing it wishes to oppose. Over a decade ago, Bill Shanahan told us that “debate is already dead.” Perhaps he is right. Perhaps we are only replaying what has come before, but this, for some reason does not dissuade me. We do this despite being called lazy. We do this despite having to justify the legitimacy of our methods. We do this because it is trying to kill us. And if we risk becoming debate’s underside, its belligerent compliment, than I (and others) will take up the challenge.