Nicholson Baker Explains What Happened to Criticism

Read these interviews, people.

JCH: As you see it, what happened to criticism? That is, how did we move from Arnold and Pater and Wilde to the kind of academic criticism produced in Literature departments?

NB: What happened was that people like Pater and Swinburne overdid the rapture and tired everyone out. The idea grew up that we had to set aside our likes and dislikes, and even our knowledge of biographical context—and sometimes that impulse was helpful. New Criticism and Close Reading aspired to be a little like the f/64 school of photography, where everything was in focus. No softness, no mists of emotion. Panovsky was searching for iconographical symbols with a magnifying glass, and I.A. Richards was, if I remember right, making diagrams that supposedly demonstrated the neurological effects triggered by lines of poetry. After a few decades of poking at lyrical joys with the tools of forensic prose, we’d had enough of pseudo-objectivity and instead spiraled out into the deep dark-mattered space of Franco-Grecian vocabularies and learned, humorless puns. Now there are fewer English majors, and we’re back to square one—reading and writing reviews, celebrating and spurning.

Recent Posts

Criticism Isn't Free

CR is dedicated to thoughtful, in-depth criticism without regard to what's commercially appealing. It takes tens of hours each month to provide this. Please help make this sort of writing sustainable, either with a subscription or a one-time donation. Thank you!

You could also purchase one of my acclaimed ebooks.

Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2018. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.