Follow Harriet on Twitter
A Crisis in Worldwide Literary Criticism…
The Melville House blog points us to an interesting article, published on Saturday, from Spain’s El País newspaper. The article, in its original Spanish, “pronounced a state of crisis in worldwide literary criticism,” with Winston Manrique Saboga interviewing some folks who would know: literary editor of The Guardian Claire Armitstead; essayist, editor and translator Eliot Weinberger; and Marie Arana, the former editor of The Washington Post‘s now-defunct Book World review section, among others. “The piece attributes the crisis to the economic crash and to the world’s dual advance: the split between print and digital. Commentators didn’t pull their punches, and revealed some true anxiety about this question.” Melville House quotes Eliot Weinberger:
The United States does not have the kinds of literary supplements that are common in Spain and many other countries. It has only one important frequent periodical of criticism–The New York Review of Books. There are no longer powerful American critics, as there were until the 1960s, writing in a prose that was intelligible to anyone, and inserting literature into the political, social, and moral issues of the day. So-called “serious” criticism has largely become the domain of academics, who write in a specialized jargon, under the bizarre belief that complex thought can only be presented in impenetrable sentences… Criticism, in the United States, has been reduced to “recommendations,” which come via reviews, blogs, and Twitter. Prizes have become the standard validation of literary merit–especially among those who are unaware how prizes are chosen. I can’t think of a single American critic to whom one now turns for ideas…
Powerful stuff, and possibly true. The post provides other examples of wan reviewing, and serves up a list from Saboga “of rules for balanced criticism; the ten commandments of writing about writing,” which are as compelling as any list like this can be. And we might note that it pertains mostly to fiction. But fiction isn’t alone in its concern over the state of criticism.