More than ever, critical authority comes from the power of the critic’s prose, the force and clarity of her language; it is in the art of writing itself that information and knowledge are carried, in the sentences themselves that literature is preserved. The secret function of the critic today is to write beautifully, and in so doing protect beautiful writing.
More than a little of my recent Super Sekrit Application of whatever I called it before was spent discussing the amazingness of Zadie Smith, who writes funny, intelligent film and literary criticism that makes me weep with jealousy and embark on ambitious projects – like doing anything she does on Nabokov on Brontë – that I will never finish, but for the few hours I lived in the idea of writing I was One Inspired Damsel, let me tell you.
I don’t know what my Writing Future holds, whether I’ll ever get seriously into criticism again or whether I’ll spiral off into other writing genres and fondly remember the days when I had tens and tens of readers in the ol’ WTF College paper….
But we, as a world of readers/viewers/listeners (I will not say consumers) need critics. Not because we are stupid (though some of us are) or because our taste is inherently lowly unless elevated by a bimonthly liberal commie pinko NPR-listening magazine delivered to us (though sometimes it might be – hey, I’m as susceptible to just watching reruns of Wipeout as the next Jane)….
But because the people who are creating art deserve to have that art investigated in a high-falutin manner. They deserve to be read and seen and analyzed and placed in context of their forerunners and contemporaries and to have it done awesomely, hilariously, in-depth and by someone who’s paid to make it the primary task on their to-do list. And those (of us) who’ve worked hard to read and see as much as they can should reap the rewards of using words as legos to develop and enhance language.
And yeah, there’s privilege allllll up in there, which I and all critics should be profoundly humbly grateful to possess.
The irrepressibility of literature is something to celebrate – and so is the necessary nature of criticism. Each art form pushes the other to be better.