From the Nation: Criticism in the Twilight

Nicholas Dames at The Nation reviews three books that attempt to vindicate the practice of literary criticism. One of the most salient ways in which all three have done so is by laboring howcriticism opens the sensibilities of its readers to more valuably appreciate works of art that wouldotherwise have been abstruse or mysterious. What, Dames alarmingly asks, is the role of the critic in an age that appreciates him or her apparently less than ones before them.

Lionel Trilling. (Bettman). Image for The Nation.

Lionel Trilling. (Bettman). Image for The Nation.

But where can one find a good enough teller these days? What venues can play host to a critical sensibility that is both distinctive and imitable? What institutions can afford to supply the cultural critic with a steady income and a stable intellectual home? These are embarrassing questions to ask. It is unlikely that such a figure would emerge today from print journalism, as the walls close in on the handful of venues that still bother with criticism at all. It is even less likely that the Internet, each corner of which is constantly undergoing mitosis, can nurture a voice with the necessary kind of consistency and economic stability. Least likely of all is the university, which is presently too engaged in a struggle for legitimacy to speak for a public. Suggest any one of these sites and you can hear the laughter in advance. Too commercial, too hurried, too rarefiedand all of it too partial: Any setting that might give the critic a connection to genuine, generalizable experience is virtually out of reach.

Is is in part these questions that the three authors whose books are themselves undergoing criticism, which the triad set out to answer. We learn throughout that the critic who is likened often to the artisan rather than artist is part of an historical enterprise that is much more imaginative than commonly supposed. But that criticism itself might be suffering from the bias that comes from any partisan. But we can at least have solace in its not being propaganda, since that is a kind of art that criticism has failed either to live up or down to, depending on your view.

Read his full post at The Nation

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