In a review for Rain Taxi of Noel Carroll's On Criticism, Nigel Beale paraphrases Carroll's description of the critic as
he or she who says what is good in a work, pinpoints what is valuable, bolsters observations with compelling reasons, and helps an audience to understand and get the richest experiences possible from those artworks under evaluation.
I can readily agree with the proposition that the useful critic "bolsters observations with compelling reasons, and helps an audience to understand and get the richest experiences possible from those artworks under evaluation," but it seems to me that the critic who accomplishes these things doesn't really need to focus so earnestly on declaring what's "good" or "valuable" about the work. He or she could easily settle for "observations" backed with details in an effort to "pinpoint" what the work has to offer and to do so in order to encourage the reader/viewer/listener to have "the richest experiences possible," while letting "what is valuable" remain implicit. At some point the critic has decided that the work in question is worth this sort of description and analysis, and that it is worth a potential audience's time, but to belabor the "evaluative" function of criticism beyond that point is really just superfluous.
On his blog, Nigel has frequently stressed the importance of the evaluative as the central mode of criticism, but both there and here I believe he is confusing "criticism" in the broadest sense with reviewing in the narrowest sense. The reviewer's job is, in part, to evaluate, although even the reviewer still has some obligation to describe or "observe." Criticism following on the work's initial reviews certainly doesn't need to fixate so intently on evaluation, although there are cases, when a critic is trying to bring attention to an unduly neglected book, for example, in which evaluation might still be emphasized. Works of literature need ongoing critical reading and competing interpretations, not perpetual reviewing and judgment. The latter, in my view, is in part an attempt to elevate the critic making the judgment over the work itself.
No doubt Nigel might say that critics can avoid this if they apply well-established criteria, if they make the judgment "based on the extent to which they implement the known purposes of their categories and meet accepted criteria of artistic excellence." But this is a recipe for aesthetic stagnation and critical orthodoxy. What if a work of fiction or poetry implements an unknown purpose of its category, one unknown until now, until its successful illustration in this particular text? What if this text alters the "accepted criteria of artistic excellence"? Perhaps one could say that the innovations of this work subsequently get folded inot the "accepted criteria" of judgment, but what is the point of collecting and hoarding these criteria in the first place if it has to be admitted that they change when an innovative poem or novel shows them to be inadequate? Careful description and a tolerance for disruptions of established standards are in my opinion more "valuable" characteristics of the literary critic than the willingness to make overweening pronouncements.
My initial contribution to Critical Distance is, I believe, a critical essay that illustrates the difference between description and evaluation. In my analysis of Russell Banks's Affliction, I don't assess the novel according to the full range of "accepted criteria of artistic excellence." I don't urge the reader to either read or not read Affliction as an effort to say "what is good in a work" and thus reinforce the accepted criteria. I assume the reader thinks I do consider it worthy of his/her attention or I wouldn't be devoting an extended analysis to it, but otherwise leave that as a (correct) assumption. My goal is to describe how the various devices Banks uses helps to "contextualize" the naturalist novel that is the model for Affliction. I may or may not succeed in the attempt to elucidate the "artfulness" of these devices, but I am trying to put Affliction itself in a context that will, I hope, provide the reader with a richer experience when reading this novel.