I’ve been a practicing critic for a while now, and over the years I’ve had the good fortune to writer better and better reviews and break into bigger and bigger venues. As far as it goes, this is all great: I think reviews can be a wonderful form of writing, and I love to write them (in no small part because it’s one of the few genres of writing that I really excel at). I also love to read them, when they’re done well.
But if literary criticism is to truly play a part in moving literary culture forward, we need more than reviews. Reviews are, by definition, a limited, reactive genre of writing. I don’t mean to say that they’re easy to write at all, or that people shouldn’t dedicate time to doing them well—literary culture needs good critics. But there is a lot, lot more for critics to write beyond reviews.
Good critics need to have vision and sweep just as much as good authors do, and if you look back at the great critics, what distinguishes them is that they have put forward very good ideas that remained viable throughout their careers and have shifted discourse. They’ve also played no small part in the creation and substance of some of the best literary fiction.
Well, this is exactly what TQC Long Essays are about. It’s about working with people whom I believe have a very firm grasp of criticism and asking them to take that next step–to start putting together some really interesting arguments about literature. My hope is twofold: to generate some interesting criticism that is a true contribution to literary culture, and to help some critics in the early-to-middle stages of their career move on to an interesting, bigger project.