Søren Kierkegaard compared reading reviews of his books to « the long martyrdom of being trampled to death by geese. » John Steinbeck’s advice, « unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise », was to « ignore the bastard. » The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, when it came to critics, noted that « no statue has ever been erected in honor of any of them. » Noël Coward maintained that critics never bothered him, except when they were right, but that, he said, « does not happen very often. » Such a tradition has created the illusion that between writers and critics a combat is waged. (And not only critics: George Bernard Shaw, for example, called Ulysses « a disgusting record of a disgusting phase of civilization », and Virginia Woolf saw in Joyce’s novel « the effort of a filthy student popping his pimples ») But my project—Flaubertian, I must admit—of accumulating useless and erroneous nuggets was not borne of hostility toward any critic, past or present: it was an effort to reach a certain perspective on the critical landscape, and to see whether another kind of criticism was possible and, if so, which one.
Jessica Pressman, Bookishness: Loving Books in a Digital Age (Columbia University Press, 2021).
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Sobre la crítica literaria, translated by Juan de Sola (Barcelona: Elba, 2014).
Born in Włocławek, Poland, in 1920, Reich-Ranicki, who came to be known as the « pope of German literature », promoted that literature first with his support of Gruppe 47, later from his position as editor of the literary pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and finally on the—very popular—television program Das Literarische Quartett. He died in Frankfurt am Main in 2013.