For example. Writing about the critics he read as a boy, he says:
I thought of these writers above all as teachers, and like all good teachers they taught by example; the example that they set, week after week, was to recreate on the page the drama of how they had arrived at their judgments.Yeah. That's it. I felt that too, as a young reader. And that's what I aim for now, as a blogger. (Don't bother telling me that I seldom achieve it!) Later he says:
What I was really learning from those critics each week was how to think. How to think (we use the term so often that we barely realize what we’re saying) critically—which is to say, how to think like a critic, how to judge things for myself. To think is to make judgments based on knowledge: period.Yeah. That's it. The best criticism is an exercise in thinking, and therefore a lesson in thinking.
Unfortunately he ends his meditations with a couple of overly-facile statements. Like so many people writing for pay, he Mendelsohn seems to harbor disdain for those who haven't Made It like him. Apropos of some current contretemps about criticism, he concludes that
...I wonder whether the recent storm of discussion about criticism, the flurry of anxiety and debate about the proper place of positive and negative reviewing in the literary world, isn’t a by-product of the fact that criticism, in a way unimaginable even twenty years ago, has been taken out of the hands of the people who should be practicing it: true critics, people who, on the whole, know precisely how to wield a deadly zinger, and to what uses it is properly put... Yes, we’re all a bit sensitive to negative reviewing these days; but if you’re going to sit in judgment on anyone, it shouldn’t be the critics.
Yeah, but. First of all there's a "no true Scotsman" kind of thing going on here. Even before the advent of the Internet, a lot of the people practicing criticism would have failed to live up to his "true critic" standards, right? Obviously it's not amateur vs. professional (i.e., do you get paid to do it) that determines the "true critic." It's all the things he's detailed over the course of his article (passion, knowledge, taste, etc.). Print-based professional journalistic critics have no monopoly on those things. Certainly the internet has loosed a lot of idiots to drool on the keys, but it has also given voice to a lot of people who have passions, knowledge, tastes that could never have qualified for mainstream media patronage. If criticism is a thing worth doing (as he's convinced us it is), then surely it's worth doing well - it's possible to do it well, and therefore it's possible to do it badly. And when it's done badly, why shouldn't we sit in judgment? Why should critics be immune to criticism? And yet he says they should be. Hmm.