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.


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