What is the place of serious criticism in the age of instant, ubiquitous opinion?
They range from thoughtful to evangelical to downright hyperbolic (cop the quotation from Sam Anderson's piece, below!) but they make interesting reading.
Martin Amis, one of my reviewing heroes, made an apt comment once about the special nature of book criticism: he said that art critics, when they review art shows, don’t paint pictures about those shows, film critics don’t review movies by making movies about them and music critics don’t review concerts by composing symphonies. “But,” he said, “when you review a prose-narrative, then you write a prose-narrative about that prose-narrative.” This is the magic, and the opportunity, of the form. In reviewing a book, we respond artfully to a work of art in its own medium. We write words about words — and then, as the conversation progresses, we write words about words about words about words. Our work is a kind of ground zero of textuality, in which one text converges on another text to create a third, hybrid, ultratext. This self-reflexiveness doesn’t make critical writing secondary or parasitic, as critics of the critics have said for centuries: it makes it complex and fascinating and exponentially exciting. It reminds me of Aristotle’s description of the mind of God, an apparatus so divinely perfect it can think only of itself: “Its thinking is a thinking on thinking.”
My reaction? Maybe Marty should get his hand off it. (You too Sam!) Composers have been responding to each others works critically, in kind, for centuries. Visual artists too. Rare is the literary critic that can match, let alone eclipse, the original writer.
My fave reviews Of All Time were by DH Lawrence, especially his responses to Walt Whitman. DH skewers Walt. Oh, yeah! That's art! But it's all DH innit? I didn't love Walt any less after seeing him disemboweled. But I did like DH a whole lot more. Enough to forgive him (most of) his trespasses.