A Case for Public Criticism

A Case for Public Criticism

In his new book, Morris Dickstein proposes to make a fresh case for a creature he calls the public critic. This is no easy job. Though the designation instantly calls to mind the achievements of George Orwell and Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe, we have been reminded all too often of late that the time of the public critic has passed. Anyone who keeps up with the book wars will agree that, in the American university at least, writing for a general audience is usually regarded as a sign of mediocre ambition and a shallow, journalistic intelligence. Leading academic critics today typically consider themselves professionals writing for an audience of their academic peers. Well-intentioned scholars like Dickstein may do what they will to challenge the authority of fashionable doctrines like deconstruction, but—so it is generally felt—the assumptions and values of public criticism are impossible to resurrect. Anyone thinking to address contemporary literature or ideas in the spirit of Matthew Arnold or T.S. Eliot is apt to seem lamentably out of touch with current moods and expectations.

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Lima