where does a critic's authority come from?

There were fireworks for a while — last year, I think — when we got into a discussion about the process of reviewing, the responsibility of reviewers, the role of authors, etc etc etc. Should I let this sleeping dog lie?

I can’t. Because I came across an excellent weblog post that makes points I tried to make back then, when I was dodging all those incoming missiles.

book daddyThe post is by book/daddy, also known as Jerome Weeks. Weeks has a long list of credentials, for example: he’s a member of the National Book Critics Circle and was a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. Thus: the very embodiment of the litcriterati. But wait. I tend to use that term negatively, so I’ll say instead that he’s versed in the language of the litcriterati, but he also knows what it means to take yourself too seriously. And he’s got a great motto (I’ve got to get me one of those), even if it does demonstrate his weakness for Latin and Greek:

The official book/daddy motto: Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt! (Roughly: To hell with those who published before us)

So this last May he posted the question: where does a critic’s authority come from?

The post is long, but I want to give you just a little bit so that you’ll actually go over and read the whole thing. Here it is:

The questions occurred to me while reading Richard Schickel’s instantly notorious, flame-bait outburst against bloggers, “Not everybody’s a critic” in the LA Times. Much of what Mr. Schickel grumps about is — pace all of the outraged bloggers — perfectly accurate. Reviews aren’t just opinions, no matter how wittily and dismissively they’re expressed. Much of what passes for literary criticism on the web is simply very loud likes and dislikes, often not very enlightening likes or dislikes, unsubstantiated and barely argued, if at all — dragged down, perhaps, by the way the web inspires flame wars and insults. If Jessa Crispin (Bookslut) trashes another book — like Don DeLillo’s Falling Man — while declaring her contempt for the work in question is so mighty and inviolate that she’ll never stoop to reading the book, I’ll stop paying attention to her judgment on most any book. And I heartily agree with her on many graphic novels. But the surly imperiousness does her no favors.

So go forth and read book/daddy. I just spent an hour I could not afford reading through his posts. An hour well spent.

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