C Magazine

The Limits of Empathy: Criticism and Editing Across Borders

As an editor who works primarily with art critics, perhaps this comparison is simply too tempting: a piece of writing will likely never have a closer reader than its most committed editor, just like an artwork will seldom have as close a reader as its sharpest critic.

What drives the comparison for me is a burr that embedded itself when I read this quote from novelist and line editor Jayne Anne Phillips: “[T]he line on the page is the rock solid basis of it all, completely obvious and present, unlike the murk of intention, which is so often only what we think we know about what we’re trying to write.”1 Like Phillips, I think it is the job of editors and critics alike to cut through the “murk of intention”: first to immerse in this entanglement, to embody the position of one who so hotly wants to convey a thing, and then to show no mercy in comparing intention to its always-imperfect execution.

The editor’s inbox overflows perpetually with intent, distilled and concentrated in proposals and article

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