Robert Pippin, in the Times, suggests that reading need not be in the context of literary critical theory to be meaningful:
Well worth reading, as are the responses to the article, which defend and excoriate him. I had this to add, and apologize for its length:
1. I encounter a work of art, usually, before critics' takes on them, and form a reaction that, as far as it goes, usually persists after I read critics' views on it.
2. I find critics most valuable when they add a historical, personal, contextual or other perspective, making connections I hadn't--a synthetic, rather than analytic, exercise, and when they challenge my views, requiring that I rethink them and defend, modify or abandon them. I find them useless when their primary goal is to teach me their critical theories. (I'm aware that these aren't always as separable as I imply.)
3. Criticism loses its way when it becomes more self-referential than illuminating of the work. Warning signs include critics writing for other critics, a dismissal or even disdain for a potential broader audience outside the critical establishment or academy, diction increasingly impenetrable to outsiders, assumptions whose unquestioning acceptance is a necessary token of legitimacy in the critical enterprise. At this point, critics ossify the very culture they sometimes oppose, removing the rhetoric of opposition from broader discourse to an isolated work of a 'supercilious, out of touch self-appointed elite' easily resented, caricatured and dismissed by everybody else. And, too, they more easily mistake nonsense for serious thought, as in the Sokal hoax.
4. When artists produce works mindful of their place in a community of critics more than in a larger society, they, too, become irrelevant and easily dismissed by all but a small group with little impact on the rest of us. The difference between Auden's 'poetry that makes nothing happen' and the role of, say, Akhmatova and Mandelstam in the Soviet Union, comes to mind, as does the sort of architecture that, for better or worse, Tom Wolfe's 'From Bauhaus to Our House' excoriated. A parallel in governance is regulatory capture, in which a regulator and the object of regulation form a common agenda, to the detriment of the public interest.
5. Every astronomer knows, and is deeply ambivalent or angry about, Whitman's 'When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer', in which the poet finds a lecturer's dissection of the sky's mysteries repellant, and goes out to gaze at the stars without a trivializing mediation. Most of us got into science in the first place out of a sense of wonder, and found acquiring knowledge, ways of thinking about the larger world productive of more knowledge, a way of deepening that wonder rather than diversionary from it. I'd suggest a close to exact parallel between the sort of criticism of art I outline above, subject to some of the same pitfalls. An increasing discomfort amongst a minority of physicists with string theory, which has yet to be even approached experimentally and is unapproachable by outsiders neither gifted nor well trained in its gorgeous, difficult mathematics, comes to mind.
6. However hard to define rigorously, some recognition that there exists an outside reality that must be reckoned with, that any human enterprise will only imperfectly mirror it, and, in consequence, contain mistakes as well as illuminations, is absolutely required. I would suggest that science, for all the difficulty of demarcating it rigorously from other human activity, does this better than it's done elsewhere. But it can be done in ways other than those of science, and must be done, mindful, as in science, of both the inevitability of incompleteness and error and the possibility of at least in part correcting them. No critical enterprise can retain meaning otherwise. The Sokal hoax is on this point, as is the Bush administration's famous 'we create our own reality' and the manifest failure of governance before it.
7. Financial markets, dealing in incomprehensible assets valued at ever more distance from tangible external reality, can do that. Political discourse, in which the like minded only talk and listen to each other, at ever more distance from reality, can do that. And so on--in every case, lost in self-reference, making the world a smaller place, a worse place. The world's realities, its problems, their possible solutions, all desperately need to be addressed in a wider social and political context than they are. Intellectual activity that includes more folk than it excludes, enters the debate outside academia as well as inside it, and addresses far-reaching issues crossing borders of boundary and discipline, is far more likely to help than that mostly occupied in its own struggles.