The Critic as Novelist.

For someone who writes both criticism and fiction (well, little book reviews and short stories), I found this discussion about critics as novelists and novelists as critics probing. Daniel Mendelsohn, whose work in the New Yorker I often enjoy, discusses how bad a novelist the brilliant Susan Sontag was:

The tools of the critic are, in fact, precisely what you find in that clanking Sontag passage: unabashed expertise, heightened self-consciousness, an impulse to explicate.

He really couldn’t be more right, it seems, at least with Sontag—although Leslie Jamison, the other author for this Bookends feature, is dead-on, too:

We seem to have more patience for the novelist who writes criticism (Henry James, Virginia Woolf) than for the critic who writes novels (Susan Sontag, Lionel Trilling). This discrepancy suggests an implicit prejudice: The novelist who writes criticism is sending dispatches from inside the maelstrom — translating creativity into sense — while the critic who writes novels is learning to fly from a set of instructions, trying to conjure magic from recipes. The critic of the critic-novelist ratifies a certain Romantic notion of art: Creativity should rise from intuitive inspiration, not conceptual overdetermination.

For those with an interest in reading fiction, I can’t recommend the whole thing enough.