“One of the reasons for the diminished influence of literary criticism is that while the role of the critic in society has changed, criticism itself has been slow to respond. The critic of sixty or seventy years ago, a figure with a vivid role in the culture, stood between a circumscribed canon of past literature and a fairly elite class of professional writers in the present, and explained all of that to a general audience of readers. Today the critic stands in a different zone, between the expanding body of past works made available digitally and an even larger production in the present. He or she walks a burning deck, about to be consumed.
It’s moving to read documents of that vanished past, such as the essays by critics who believed deeply in the old offices of criticism—Kenneth Burke, Lionel Trilling, Leo Spitzer—and see the balance of forces at work: evaluation, contextualization, and a speaking about literature that cannot be said by literature itself. Each of those acts should be part of a renewed literary criticism, but in a different light than in the past.”