The Humble Critic

If good literary critics are rarer than good poets or novelists, one reason is the nature of human egoism. A poet or a novelist has to learn to be humble in the face of his subject matter which is life in general. But the subject matter of a critic, before which he has to learn to be humble, is made up of authors, that is to say, of human individuals, and this kind of humility is much more difficult to acquire. It is far easier to say—"Life is more important than anything I can say about it"—than to say—"Mr. A's work is more important than anything I can say about it."

—Auden, in his essay on reading.

My mind immediately goes to movie critics when I read this, but Auden's point is just as important for academics. I had a professor this semester who encouraged us to be gracious in our papers, to keep the reader in mind and to treat the author with respect. It was a good reminder, and a rare attitude in academic writing.