‘Critics are writers’

From an interview with Daniel Mendelsohn:

Well critics are writers. I think that my point has been that critics are not just carrying out a negative agenda. Critics are trying to illuminate texts that they find interesting, and to educate readers. I have a friend, who’s also an editor, and he always says that “criticism is a service industry.” Really your job is to illuminate whatever it is that you’re looking at—movies, or books, or novels, or non-fiction, whatever it is. And because you’ve done the homework, and you’re sharing your impressions—now, they’re your impressions and people might not agree with that—but you have to lay groundwork of what you’ve learned about the writer, the other books that they’ve written, you’re the one who has to synthesize it all.

A friend and I have two categories of writing: writing-writing and non-writing-writing. Non-writing-writing pays the bills (or at least offers the illusion that one day we’ll make a living out of it). Writing-writing is the ‘real’ stuff: the novels, short stories, poetry etc. that we hope to write. The other day, someone told me, “Don’t waste these years. None of what you’re writing now will actually matter.” These 500-, 800-, 1200-word pieces that I write for crazy deadlines will simply become fodder for paper-shredders and landfills one day, this person told me. “I should know,” they said. “I wasted my 30s on this stuff and it’s inconsequential.” It’s the second time I’ve been told this. More than one person has suggested I embrace unemployment (now that this job is on wonky ground) and do writing-writing. No one is particularly convinced by my feeble protests that I need a salary. “In India, the critic is inconsequential,” someone told me. “If you think anyone respects you because of what you write, you’re delusional. It doesn’t matter.” This point of view probably isn’t entirely incorrect, particularly in India where anybody can review pretty much anything, but it’s so heartening to see someone root for the critic.

Plus, it makes be feel marginally better about the fact that so far in 2013, I’ve done no writing-writing and only non-writing-writing. But hey, critics are writers, ok? It counts.

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