A Literary Critic for Biologists?

Question: What do you set\r\nout to accomplish when you write a literary essay?


Louis Menand:  I’m\r\n trying to make the subject\r\ninteresting to other people, that’s the main job of being a writer. \r\nBecause\r\nit’s a subject that I’m interested in, so that’s what I really care \r\nabout, I\r\ndon’t really usually push an agenda, and I don’t feel that my main job \r\nis to\r\npersuade people of something.  My\r\nmain job is to help them think about something.


Question: Who is your\r\npresumed audience when you write? 


Louis Menand:  For\r\n the kind of places I’ve written for\r\nand the kind of writing that I’ve done, the general way to think about \r\nyour\r\naudience is to think about somebody who’s like yourself, but in a \r\ncompletely\r\ndifferent discipline.  So I\r\ngenerally think of a biologist, or professor of biology. \r\n So if I’m writing about T. S.\r\nEliot,  this is probably someone\r\nwho’s heard of T. S. Eliot, may have read some T. S. Eliot in college, \r\nbut\r\ndoesn’t know a whole lot more about T. S. Eliot, because they’re busy \r\ndoing more\r\nimportant things with their brains, but they might be interested in \r\nsomething\r\nthat I have to say about T. S. Eliot. \r\nSo I have to write it in a way that appreciates that this \r\nperson’s\r\nprobably very well educated, a smart person, and at the same time, \r\ndoesn’t know\r\nanything effectively about what it is I’m writing about. \r\n And that’s really the trick of writing\r\nfor places like the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, which \r\nare two\r\nof the places that I’ve written a lot for.


So that’s really my audience.  Now,\r\n the actual audience could be very different, could be a\r\nlot of retired high school teachers, or, you know, or graduate students \r\nor\r\nanybody.  It’s very hard to know\r\nwho your readers are, but that’s who I’m... if I have somebody in my \r\nhead, that’s\r\nprobably who it is.

The audience that the New Yorker critic has in mind is "somebody who’s like yourself, but in a completely different discipline."

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