Now, maybe more than ever, in a cultural desert characterized by the vast, glimmering territory of the Internet, it is important for the critic to write gracefully. If she is going to separate excellent books from those merely posing as excellent, the brilliant from the flashy, the real talent from the hyped--if she is going to ferret out what is lazy and merely fashionable, if she is going to hold writers to the standards they have set for themselves in their best work, if she is going to be the ideal reader and in so doing prove that the ideal reader exists--then the critic has one important function: to write well.
By this I mean that critics must strive to write stylishly, to concentrate on the excellent sentence. There is so much noise and screen clutter, there are so many Amazon reviewers and bloggers clamoring for attention, so many opinions and bitter misspelled rages, so much fawning ungrammatical love spewed into the ether, that the role of the true critic is actually quite simple: to write on a different level, to pay attention to the elements of style...
More than ever, critical authority comes from the power of the critic’s prose, the force and clarity of her language; it is in the art of writing itself that information and knowledge are carried, in the sentences themselves that literature is preserved. The secret function of the critic today is to write beautifully, and in so doing protect beautiful writing.
-- KATIE ROIPHE, “With Clarity and Beauty, the Weight of Authority,” in the NYTimes, along with five more incisive essays by practitioners on “Why Criticism Matters” [of the literary kind, I should add].