On tour to promote her new novel, a rather famous writer gave a public reading in the country of my exile. I was in the audience. Questioned about literary criticism the rather famous writer posited that she only accepts criticism from those who have themselves ventured into the “arena”, i.e. have published work of their own.
This position is untenable for two reasons.
First, every reader is also a critic. One cannot read a novel and not form an opinion of it even as one reads. Why would the opinion of a critic be worth less if it is published as literary criticism? And should the private reader hold her own opinion of what she has read in contempt because, as ardent (and perhaps accomplished) as she may be as a reader, she does not have a talent for writing? In other words, would it be ill-advised for a reader to reflect on what she has read, since, in the rather famous writer’s view, she should distrust her reflections because she is not a writer? It would be the end of literature, of art in general, its essence (and its most gratifying aspect) being that it opens up one’s room to views, in the privacy of one’s own mind, on one’s life, that of certain others, on life in general.
Second, if only writers of literature were allowed to criticize literary works, would this not inevitably introduce a permanent state of bitterest conflict and bloodiest competition within the literary community? This demonstrates how sadly apt the rather famous writer’s arena metaphor is. Who, having a heart for literature, and art in general, can suffer the idea of their creators being pitted against each other as if they were gladiators in an arena?
I think the photo was taken by my daughter in the very charming Maison de Balzac, 16th arrondissement 47, Rue Raynouard, Paris (France). We happened upon it returning from the Bois de Boulogne. The photo shows me sitting at what was said to be Balzac’s writing desk. I was wearing glasses. I have stopped wearing glasses altogether. There’s quite a lot one can do without wearing glasses. E.g. one can forego looking at one’s reflection in a shop window.