A few weeks ago, the literary critic and editor Richard Poirier died, apparently from injuries sustained in a household accident. Since he retired as editor of Raritan in 2001 Poirier's profile in the literary world had naturally diminished, but his passing marks the end of a critical/literary career of great distinction.
Much of the discussion of that career gets focused on his work as Raritan's editor and on his involvement with the Library of America, but it is his literary criticism that will (or should) ultimately be valued most highly. His book A World Elsewhere: The Place of Style in American Literature is one of the handful of indispensable scholarly studies of American fiction. If you haven't read this book and taken to heart its insights about the way in which American writers have always been preoccupied with the role of style and form in the creation of imaginary worlds (such that it isn't surprising the "postmodern" in fiction is essentially an American phenomenon), you don't really know anything significant about American literature.
The Performing Self, The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections, and Poetry and Pragmatism are not far behind in their substantive contributions to an understanding of what is unique about American literature. He wrote in a learned but accessible manner that almost no one in academic criticism any longer bothers to master, and his goal was always to help us become better readers of literature, not to use it to some other, more polemical end or to critically choke it into submission. It is true but also very disheartening to say that literary critics like Richard Poirier likely won't be found in the American academy again.