What motivates the critic before all else is love. Criticism is less an act of interpretation, than an erotics of reading, as Sontag knew. The critic writes not to elucidate or correct, not to dispense moral wisdom, but out of love for the strangeness of the beleaguered word. A critic teaches us how to read, which means: how to re-read. An act of devotion, in other words.
Criticism disrupts familiar patterns of reading, just as art itself does. As Geoffrey Hartman says: “the mystery of aesthetic education is in the understanding it gives of liminal or transitional states” (CW 262). Criticism as a secular theological activity is committed to this mystery.
The critic begins out of rupture, a sense of being shattered and haunted by something powerful, and a desire to re-invoke, to re-chant the text and its hold over him, to enter again the force field of its affect and plenitude.
Book reviewing, on the other hand, is concerned with settling opinion, policing boundaries and repressing the eros of reading in favor of the publishing industry’s death whispers.
The critic wants to unsettle opinion. She is more concerned with the questions which reading generates, with its disruptions. The book reviewer is an umpire. Useful, but pedestrian.