The Critic as Chameleon
The best way of becoming a literary critic, then, is to read widely in the work of other literary critics, while also paying careful attention to the literary critic’s object of study.
One might think of the literary critic as a kind of empathetic chameleon, disinterestedly capable of extending imaginative sympathy to the range of human actors, conditions and motivations that are represented in literary texts.
As the etymology of the word chameleon reminds us (Greek: khamaileōn from khamai on the ground + leōn lion), the extension of imaginative sympathy should also involve the exercise of humility. (The word ’humble’ has a common root in khamai).
Some, though, would regard with suspicion the universalism implied in this stance, seeing instead a cover for particular interests (of class, race or gender) that the literary critic will (consciously or unconsciously) bring to bear on a text. We will examine these issues further in the pages that follow.