Illustration © Lisa Jane Persky
"The job of the regular daily, weekly, or even monthly critic resembles the work of the serious intermittent critic, who writes only when he is asked to or genuinely moved to, in limited ways and for only a limited period of time ... What usually happens is that (the staff critic) writes for some time at his highest level: reporting and characterizing accurately ... and producing insights, and allusions, which, if they are not downright brilliant, are apposite ... What happens after a longer time is that he settles down. The simple truth — this is okay, this is not okay, this is vile, this resembles that, this is good indeed, this is unspeakable — is not a day's work for a thinking adult. Some critics go shrill. Others go stale. A lot go simultaneously shrill and stale. A few critics, writing quietly and well, bring something extra into their work ... Some staff critics quit and choose to work flat out again, on other interests and in intermittent pieces. By far the most common tendency, however, is to stay put and simply to inflate, to pretend that each day's text is after all a crisis..."
— Renata Adler, "The Perils of Pauline"
"As [Harold] Bloom has settled into this second career, so his old virtues have gradually fallen from him. An extraordinary amount of the work of the last decade is luxurious with padding and superfluity; there is hardly a book of his that would not have been better off as an essay. He is not a critic anymore, but a populist appreciator ... Above all, for Bloom, writers must be ranked, and the greatness of the very greatest asserted again and again. Moreover, all great writers are essentially alike."
— James Wood, "The Misreader"
"The house of fiction, as Henry James once said, has 'not one window, but a million,' and hence no single aperture gives access to what James called 'the need of the individual vision and the pressure of the individual will.' Different novelists look to different models. Fielding, Sterne, and Stendhal set the pattern for the ironic or self-conscious novel, flaunting its own narrative devices. Balzac became the great exemplar of the social novel, as Scott and Manzoni did for the historical novel. Tolstoy's deceptive simplicity transformed style into a transparent window on the real. Kafka's metaphorical novels and stories turned fiction into fable or parable. Each of these writers depends on exact circumstantial detail, but the strength of their fiction comes not from the phrase, the sentence, the metaphor, as critics like Wood would have it, but from how they actualize larger units of scene and theme, plot and character. It can be misleading to approach fiction primarily through its language, a technique better suited to the study of poetry..."
— Morris Dickstein, letter to New York Times Book Review, May 7, 2006
"Everyone speaks of the 'negative capability' of the artist, of his ability to lose what self he has in the many sel...