Why write about literature?

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

In a review of Morris Dickstein’s new collection of criticism, The Mirror in the Roadway, Ilan Stavans notes that the writer asks and answers the question why we should bother writing criticism, since it sure as hell isn’t for money, fame, love or even much in the way of simple admiration:

One writes about literature because literature without criticism doesn’t have a solid place in society. The critic is a map-maker, one in charge of surveying our intellectual landscape, of offering context, of offering judgment on what’s beautiful. Unfortunately, “beauty” is a word out of fashion. Still, the critic invites us to make aesthetic validations. This is true in any time and place, especially in an open-market democracy such as ours, in which ideas are showcased like merchandise.

In a time when it seems that putting actual judgments on literature is falling out of fashion, this seemed to me like powerful good sense. It put me in mind of Emma Garman’s defense of snark, which I invite you to re-read.


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