The Critic as Amateur


Can the criticism of literature and culture ever be completely professionalized? Does criticism retain an amateur impulse even after it evolves into a highly specialized discipline enshrined in the university?

The Critic as Amateur brings leading and emerging scholars together to explore the role of amateurism in literary studies. While untrained reading has always been central to arenas beyond the academy – book clubs, libraries, used bookstores – its role in the making of professional criticism is often disavowed or dismissed. This volume, the first on the critic as amateur, restores the links between expertise, autodidactic learning and hobbyist pleasure by weaving literary criticism in and out of the university.

The contributors take criticism to the airwaves, through the culture of early cinema, the small press, the undergraduate classroom and extracurricular writing groups. Canonical critics are considered alongside feminist publishers and queer intellectuals. The Critic as Amateur is a vital book for readers invested in the disciplinary history of literary studies and the public role of the humanities. It is also a crucial resource for anyone interested in how literary criticism becomes a richly diverse yet shared discourse in the 20th and 21st centuries.

They say everyone’s a critic, but they don’t mean everyone writes criticism. Writing criticism, being a critic, is much more like being an orthodontist. We don’t do it without a professional reason. We might have opinions about a book and share them; we might even blog about them, chat about them, bring them up at dinner parties. But criticism—criticism recognized as such by other critics—is something else. It’s not for amateurs.
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As societies become more knowledge-dependent, the ability to claim expertise becomes more aligned with power, profit, and influence.
However, the tendency to concentrate expertise in a narrow subset of the population – the professional-managerial – faces challenges from the very sociotechnical milieu that has brought the knowledge society to fruition. At the center of this milieu is the internet.
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It is a rare book of literary criticism that can both expand the field and offer a self-exegesis of it. The Critic as Amateur, edited by Saikat Majumdar and Aarthi Vadde, is such a book. This richly suggestive collection of essays negotiates the derring-do of the provocateur-amateur position, while reflexively demonstrating the scholarly expertise required to argue for the importance – indeed necessity – of such a position.
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Each of the ten essaysin this splendid, exhaustively researched, and timely collection—buoyed by the editors’ equally comprehensive introduction and a contrapuntal pedagogical epilogue on “New, Interesting, and Original: The Undergraduate as Amateur”—is substantial in developing its arguments.
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In this age of fake news and a mistrust of experts, what value can amateur impulses bring to criticism? In The Critic as Amateur a space is made for this question and many more in a fascinating essay collection curated by Saikat Majumdar and Aarthi Vadde.
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