The audience that the New Yorker critic has in mind is “somebody who’s like yourself, but in a completely different discipline.”
Question: What do you setrnout to accomplish when you write a literary essay?rnrn
Louis Menand: I’mrn trying to make the subjectrninteresting to other people, that’s the main job of being a writer. rnBecausernit’s a subject that I’m interested in, so that’s what I really care rnabout, Irndon’t really usually push an agenda, and I don’t feel that my main job rnis tornpersuade people of something. Myrnmain job is to help them think about something.rnrn
Question: Who is yourrnpresumed audience when you write?rnrn
Louis Menand: Forrn the kind of places I’ve written forrnand the kind of writing that I’ve done, the general way to think about rnyourrnaudience is to think about somebody who’s like yourself, but in a rncompletelyrndifferent discipline. So Irngenerally think of a biologist, or professor of biology. rn So if I’m writing about T. S.rnEliot, this is probably someonernwho’s heard of T. S. Eliot, may have read some T. S. Eliot in college, rnbutrndoesn’t know a whole lot more about T. S. Eliot, because they’re busy rndoing morernimportant things with their brains, but they might be interested in rnsomethingrnthat I have to say about T. S. Eliot. rnSo I have to write it in a way that appreciates that this rnperson’srnprobably very well educated, a smart person, and at the same time, rndoesn’t knowrnanything effectively about what it is I’m writing about. rn And that’s really the trick of writingrnfor places like the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, which rnare twornof the places that I’ve written a lot for.rnrn
So that’s really my audience. Now,rn the actual audience could be very different, could be arnlot of retired high school teachers, or, you know, or graduate students rnorrnanybody. It’s very hard to knowrnwho your readers are, but that’s who I’m... if I have somebody in my rnhead, that’srnprobably who it is.