by Morgan on January 3, 2011
In attempting to wrest from my consciousness a clear vision for this blog, I keep coming back to the problem of Criticism. Namely, should I Review or review the books I read? Can I Review and still drop the F-bomb? Inversely, can I review without slipping into sheer judgement?
Almost in answer to my Dilemma, today’s New York Times Review of Books features an extraordinary collection of essays about Criticism by six of our most relevant critics. They seem to agree, unanimously (miraculously, considering we’re talking about critics) that the responsibility of the critic is to write well, and that if that can be accomplished, there’s room for all of us in the age of Amazon.
While all six essays are worth a close read, I found Katie Roiphe’s especially arresting. And though I resolve not to make this a “copy-and-paste” blog, I can’t help myself here; inasmuch as anyone who’s reading this cares about me or what I have to say, I think it’s important to be clear about where I’m going with this, and Roiphe just says it so much better than I can:
“It is important for the critic to write gracefully. If she is going to separate excellent books from those merely posing as excellent, the brilliant from the flashy, the real talent from the hyped – if she is going to ferret out what is lazy and merely fashionable, if she is going to hold writers to the standards they have set for themselves in their best work, if she is going to be the ideal reader and thereby prove that the ideal reader exists – then the critic has one important function: to write well…
…The answer to the angry Amazon reviewer who mangles sentences in an effort to berate or praise an author is the perfectly constructed old-fashioned essay that holds within its well-formed sentences and graceful rhetoric the values it protects and projects…
…The secret function of the critic today is to write beautifully, and in so doing protect beautiful writing. If critics can fulfill this single function, if they can carry the mundane everyday business of literary criticism to the level of art, then they can be ambitious and brash; they can connect books to larger currents in the culture; they can identify movements and waves in fiction; they can provoke discussion; they can carry books back into the middle of conversations at dinner parties.”
Admittedly, I’m not intrinsically interested in writing “perfectly constructed old-fashioned essays,” but as all narcissistic readers tend to do, I extract from this essay what I can use, and take it as seriously as if it were being whispered from on high, directly to me.
Therefore, I give myself permission to do whatever I want and say whatever I want about the books I read, so long as I do it well. Because I take reading seriously, I just happen to be a bitch, too.