The more deeply you pay attention, the more effective your insights on the topic and the more satisfying the experience of the critical review.
Up Front: Why Criticism Matters
We live in the age of opinion — offered instantly, effusively and in increasingly strident tones. Much of it goes by the name of criticism, and in the most superficial sense this is accurate.
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But where does it leave the serious critic, one not interested, say, in tabulating the number of “Brooklyn novelists” who receive attention each year in publications like this one (data possibly more useful to real estate agents and sociologists than to readers)? Where does it leave the critic interested in larger implications — aesthetic, cultural, moral? This question prompted us to approach six accomplished critics, each well versed in the idioms of the moment but also steeped in the older traditions of literature and criticism. We asked the six to explain what it is they do, why they do it and why it matters. We asked them, additionally, to undertake the assignment in the spirit Alfred Kazin did half a century ago in his ambitious statement of purpose “The Function of Criticism Today.” (Not that Kazin was the first critic to reflect on the “function” and value of his craft. See our essay “Masters of the Form” for other examples, some dating back to the 19th century.)