Thoughts on Criticism

J.C. Hallman, editor of The Story About the Story Vol. II, is doing a series of interviews with contributors to the book.

These are great things for anyone who styles him or herself a critic. Here’s the first interview.

J.C. Hallman: Do creative writers have an obligation to act as critics, to offer up alternatives to traditional critical methodologies and assumptions?

Charles Baxter: Nope. They should only do it if they’re moved to do it and have a gift for it. Thank God neither Hemingway nor Faulkner wrote much, or any, literary criticism.

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 English departments?

CB: The old story: given the necessities of specialization and bureaucratic infighting, American English departments needed to have a specialized and difficult discourse that served a social (read: institutional) need. They wanted a style that would impress and terrify. Their members acquired these styles from French and German literary and social philosophy that had been written in response to a set of genuine intellectual crises and a sense of historical necessity. But Americans bought and acquired these styles the way Charles Foster Kane bought European statues, for the prestige, and they imported them, pre-fabricated, for their own essays, but with the sense of intellectual necessity usually drained out.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. On That Creative Criticism School Thing . . . At The Valve there's an interesting discussion of J.C. Hallman's essay on launching a school of creative criticism. Among others, Zak Smith, of Gravity's Rainbow...
  2. The Point of Criticism Yes. Criticism should be conceived as the absolute fulcrum of a revived literary culture, because only it can advance good writing and create new readers,...
  3. Someone Save Criticism from The Atlantic It’s amazing that in 2012 The Atlantic can still publish something so clueless as this. Titled “Could the Internet Save Book Reviews?” the posting purports...
  4. Not Everything Involving an Author and a Book Is Literary Criticism I agree with Michael here: this isn’t really literary criticism. Even when publishing new editions of classic books/poets, there are things publishers can get right...
  5. Post-Colonial Criticism: Cherry-Picking Evidence? At The Valve they're discussing whether post-colonial criticism "assumes its conclusions even before it begins." The responses so far seem to amount to "yeah, so...

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