Don't know if I agree with all of this, but v. interesting:
I think criticism, more often than not, completely misses the point, yes. The critical impulse, demonstrated by the tone of many of your own questions, is to suspect, doubt, tear at, and to take something apart to see how it works. Which of course is completely the wrong thing to do to art. I used to tear books apart, and tear art exhibits apart - I was an art and book critic for a few years in San Francisco - but my urge to do that was born of bitterness and confusion and anger, not out of any real need to help or edify. When we pick at and tear into artistic output of whatever kind, we really have to examine our motives for doing so. What is it about art that can make us so angry? Is it healthy to rip to shreds something created by an artist? I would posit, if I may, that that's not really a healthy impulse. Now, as far as I know, out of maybe 100 or so reviews that I've been made aware of, my own book has received only one negative example. That's pretty lucky, especially when you consider that Wallace, for example, has gotten pretty abused by some people, people who for the most part don't have the patience his work requires. But criticism, for the most part, comes from the opposite place that book-enjoying should come from. To enjoy art one needs time, patience, and a generous heart, and criticism is done, by and large, by impatient people who have axes to grind. The worst sort of critics are (analogy coming) butterfly collectors - they chase something, ostensibly out of their search for beauty, then, once they get close, they catch that beautiful something, they kill it, they stick a pin through its abdomen, dissect it and label it. The whole process, I find, is not a happy or healthy one. Someone with his or her own shit figured out, without any emotional problems or bitterness or envy, instead of killing that which he loves, will simply let the goddamn butterfly fly, and instead of capturing and killing it and sticking it in a box, will simply point to it - "Hey everyone, look at that beautiful thing" - hoping everyone else will see the beautiful thing he has seen. Just as no one wants to grow up to be an IRS agent, no one should want to grow up to maliciously dissect books. Are there fair and helpful book critics? Yes, of course. But by and large, the only book reviews that should be trusted are by those who have themselves written books. And the more successful and honored the writer, the less likely that writer is to demolish another writer. Which is further proof that criticism comes from a dark and dank place. What kind of person seeks to bring down another? Doesn't a normal person, with his own life and goals and work to do, simply let others live? Yes. We all know that to be true.