Advice to Literary Critics

Painting by Mark Tansey: The Innocent Eye Test (1981)

My advice to a budding literary critic would be as follows. Learn to distinguish banality. Remember that mediocrity thrives on “ideas.” Beware of the modish message. Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is not your own footprint. Ignore allegories. By all means place the “how” above the “what” but do not let it be confused with the “so what.” Rely on the sudden erection of your small dorsal hairs. Do not drag in Freud at this point. All the rest depends on personal talent.

Vladimir Nabokov
Interviewed by Alfred Appel Jr., 1966
Strong Opinions (1973)

Painting by Mark TanseyThe Innocent Eye Test (1981)

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