“Well, it used to be one way a young writer made it in New York. He would attack, in a small obscure publication, someone very strong, highly regarded, whom a few people may already have hated. Then the young writer might gain a small following. When he looked for a job, an assignment, and an editor asked, ‘What have you published?’ he could reply, ‘Well, this piece.’ The editor might say, ‘Oh, yeah, that was met with a lot of consternation.’ And a portfolio began. This isn’t the way it goes now. More like a race to join the herd of received ideas and agreement.

“But, too mean versus too nice? I don’t know. Nice criticism is good when it tells you something. A lot of negative ‘criticism’ isn’t criticism at all: it’s just nasty, ‘writerly’ cliché and invective.”

Renata Adler, in an interview with The Believer, on the state of criticism. Read more from The Believer in the Longreads Archive.


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