Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Critics And The Damage Done

"Criticism needs confidence in the face of extraordinary external competition. It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone's opinion is worth the same." 
                                                                   - Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement

Yes, sir. He's right, not everyone's opinion is worth the same, which is why, for instance, the millions of words and acres of space devoted to the new J.K. Rowling novel at the behest of editors desperate to appease a perceived national hunger for opinions about her are worthless. It's also why the opinions on books in Amazon comments are to be taken lightly. And why professional critics disagree about some novels. Because, here's the shocker, despite being paid to criticise, pros are as different from one another as common people, but because they're getting paid, we're supposed to take them seriously. Even that idea is outmoded, which the people have known for years, and Stothard trembles in his brogues at the thought of that, hence the notion that 'Criticism needs confidence'.

Lit crit is not quite as redundant as music criticism, since we can't read the novel for ourselves without actually buying, but I sense it's only a couple of steps away from falling into the same abyss of Public Knowingness. People power! It's everywhere. Even a poor hack can't write an column without the editor insisting on a comments section, that malignant force which, as it grows, sets about consuming that which created it with mockery, abuse, idiocy and yes, even wisdom. We're critiquing the writers. Surely all critics should begin a review with 'IMO'. It wouldn't save their reputation, or do the idea of The Critic any good, but it would be more honest.

The People should be put back in the cage marked 'Incommunicado' where they once belonged! From there they were forced to make the effort of sending letters to the editor in the often vain hope they would be published. That sorted the men from the boys, the ones who really cared and were willing to spend time and the price of a stamp to contest critical opinion. Oh but what joy when they were published! You see, a regulatory system is needed. It multiplies the satisfaction of achievement a hundredfold. 

Blogging is a blight on our cultural landscape. It breeds incompetent, freewheeling verbal outpourings, which the very medium undermines, unless the blog has hundreds of Followers, and is plastered with adverts, thus signifying Worthwhile Content. Ease of communication is the death of Proper Criticism, but those monkeys who can tap a keyboard do no more than demonstrate their lack of qualifications. Did they go to university? Do they have degrees in English? Have they dined with an editor or made tea in the office for three years before being allowed their first review? No! Many of them are common proles who don't know Harold from Leopold Bloom. 

But when all's said and done we can rest easy. The People are just as likely to waste time writing about J. K. Rowling as The Pros, therefore, dear reader, the cultural continuum remains. The only difference between Us and Them is that some of us are free, and perversely willing, to also write about and revel in obscure books from the crammed shelves of time's dusty library regardless of audience potential and therefore financial reasoning. This kind of freedom is what establishment behemoths like Stothard despise because it robs them of all their power. 

Full interview with Stothard here.

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