The Case for Criticism

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In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz turn their attention to the art—and purpose—of criticism itself. First, they revisit the work of Joan Acocella, a legendary practitioner of the craft who wrote for The New Yorker until her death, at age seventy-eight, earlier this month, applying her distinctive humor and evocative style to such diverse subjects as Mikhail Baryshnikov, the acclaimed dancer and choreographer, and the Wife of Bath, from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” Then the hosts reflect on their own formative influences and the role a critic can play in the life of a reader. The rise of apps like Goodreads and Letterboxd has proved to be a double-edged sword, democratizing criticism while also playing into the more toxic elements of fandom. In an era of “critical populism,” what do the professionals have to offer? “Criticism is often considered a kind of gatekeeping,” Schwartz says. “It really also can be the opposite. It can be a giving of access. And that to me dignifies the whole endeavor.”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

Thank Goodness for Joan Acocella,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)
The Soloist,” by Joan Acocella (The New Yorker)
The Marrying Kind,” by Joan Acocella (The New Yorker)
Art as Technique,” by Viktor Shklovsky
Black Talk on the Move,” by Darryl Pinckney (The New York Review of Books)
Busted in New York and Other Essays,” by Darryl Pinckney
One Reason Theatre Is in Crisis: The Slow Death of Criticism,” by Jason Zinoman (American Theatre)
Let’s Rescue Book Lovers from this Online Hellscape,” by Maris Kreizman (The New York Times)
‘The O.C.’: Land of The Brooding Teen,” by Tom Shales (The Washington Post)

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