You know how in grad school they're always explaining that "criticism" at its best is a species of literature and should not be confused with "criticism" in the narrow and vulgar sense of finding fault with something? Well, the real pros know this is baloney. Take Louis Menand, a master put-down artist who makes sure you know he's smarter than the sucker under review. Here's a sentence from the June 6 issue of The New Yorker: "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower is one of those books about higher education that are based on anecdote and personal history and supported by some convenient data (sort of like this review, actually), but the story is worth hearing." Note how the pith of the sentence is tucked into a parenthesis; how the word choices stress the casualness of the universe (it was just one of those things, just one of those crazy flings); how the sentence ends on a dying fall, making the compliment, left-handed to begin with, occur as an afterthought. Masterful.
On the other hand, there are the delightful amateurs, such as J. C. Hallman in the current issue of Zone, with his provocatively titled piece, "Books Make Me Masturbate." Hallman, who was until recently under the impression that he had coined the term "creative criticism," has this terrific riff on "creative writing," a term that he does not claim to have invented:
"The first to use the phrase 'creative writing' was Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his speech 'The American Scholar,' delivered at Hahvard in 1837. If we asume that Emerson wasn't just coining a synonym for literature,a natural question arises: why did he think that we needed to be told that writing could be 'creative'? Why, indeed, unless the world had arrived at a moment when it was appearing to opt for a different use of language, when it was already opting for language that was stale, dead, boring, and insipid. For Emerson, 'creative writing' wasn't an allusion to the act of creation, to the grand scheme of two people coupling so as to make something beautiful and alive out of nothing; it was a citation of it. That's what he meant. The "-ice" part fo the word means that."-ive" is the suffix of similization. In the end, 'creative writing' means 'writing that is like fucking.' It's from the Greek. Or the Latin."
Why, indeed: just look at all those wonderfully extraneous italics, those insistent adjectives (how weary stale flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of the world), the cosmic drama (no less an entity than the world itself stands up and "opts for" dead boring insipid etc. language), the shrewd distinctions (not an allusion, a citation), and the cunning masterstroke that concludes the passage. Some may find fault with the writing. I say Kudos.
Blessed be the amateurs! -- DL