What is the function of a critic? So far as I am concerned, he can do me one or more of the following services:
1. Introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
2. Convince me that I have undervalued an author or a work because I had not read them carefully enough.
3. Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
4. Give a “reading” of a work which increases my understanding of it.
5. Throw light upon the process of artistic “making.”
6. Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.
W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand (1963), 8-9.
This is a great summing up of the critical function. Perfect timing for me finding the above quote is Noah Berlatsky’s post about critics and the
Penny Arcade guy’s rant against it.
(Edit: Andrei commented below. Maybe it’s PvP not Penny Arcade. I don’t read either. I don’t know.)
(Edit 2: Okay, I was taunted for being dismissive! I went back and checked: it was the PvP guy.)