Destructive Criticism

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 25 2012 @ 12:47pm

J. Robert Lennon takes New York Times Book Review critic William Giraldi to task for his nastiness towards novelist Alix Ohlin:

There is a good way to write a bad review of another writer, and I don’t think Giraldi is doing it. Whatever the shortcomings of Ohlin’s work might be, his review does its reader a disservice — his glee at eviscerating Ohlin overshadows his analysis, and casts doubt on its veracity. It isn’t trustworthy, which makes it no more valuable than the kind of swooning puff pieces most critics write.

Along the same lines, Richard Brody argues against fetishizing the negative review. He holds that there is "no particular method for practicing criticism, no technique to prescribe and no tone to recommend, any more than there is for art." But he does have one suggestion:

Negative criticism is as much an obligation of the nervous system—indeed, of the soul—as it is a part of the critics’ job, a responsibility to readers. But the fact that it is so—that negativity is undertaken both to save one’s sanity and to win one’s bread—is all the more reason for critics to submit their own judgments to questioning, to take their own reactions as a crucial part of what’s under their own consideration, reëvaluation, and skepticism. It’s crucial for critics to acknowledge their activity as the personal enterprise that it is. If criticism is the turning of the secondary (the critic’s judgment) into the primary, then the judgment should, in turn, be judged. Criticism, if it’s worth anything at all, is, first of all, self-criticism.