Andy Hines at Public Books:
Three new histories of literary study draw attention to the critic’s material life. Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History, by Joseph North, Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America, by Merve Emre, and Poet-Critics and the Administration of Culture, by Evan Kindley, all portray critics and readers subject to global capital flows, geopolitical shifts, and institutional administration. Each widens the range of sites where we can see criticism taking place: a grant-making foundation office (Kindley), an American Express storefront (Emre), and a web page like the one you’re reading right now (North).
Methodologically, too, each departs from what Jeffrey Williams three years ago dubbed “the new modesty in literary criticism.” In the wake of Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best’s 2009 essay “Surface Reading,” critics increasingly feel compelled to describe rather than diagnose. These books, instead, do both. Take a sentence from North’s book: “It is then merely to state the obvious to observe that the discipline’s future shape will depend most of all on the character of whatever new period of capital [emerges] in the wake of the current crisis.”