Who killed the literary critic?
In the age of blogging, great critics appear to be on life support. Salon’s book reviewers discuss snobbery, how to make criticism fun and the need for cultural gatekeepers.
By Louis Bayard and Laura Miller
May. 22, 2008 | Has the role of the professional critic become obsolete in an age of book clubs, celebrity endorsements and blogs? A new book, “The Death of the Critic,” says no, and argues that there are still reasons to regard some opinions as better than others. We asked Salon’s own book reviewers, Louis Bayard and Laura Miller, to consider its case.
Louis Bayard: The signs are ominous, Laura. Book reviews are closing shop or drastically scaling back inventory. Film critics at newspapers all over America are getting tossed on their ears. TV reviewers are heard no more in the land. All the indicators suggest that America’s critics are becoming an increasingly endangered species.
Or maybe something a little more than endangered, judging from the title that’s just come across our desks: “The Death of the Critic.” Ronan McDonald, the author, is a lecturer in English and American studies at Britain’s University of Reading, and he’s particularly exercised by what he sees as the loss of the “public critic,” someone with “the authority to shape public taste.” It’s only in the final chapter that the mystery behind the critic’s disappearance is solved. The culprit is none other than … cultural studies! (With a healthy assist from poststructuralism.) By treating literature as an impersonal text from which any manner of political meaning can be wrung, cultural studies professors have robbed criticism of its proper evaluative function — the right to say this is good, this isn’t, and here’s why.
So, Laura, it seems that, if we aren’t quite dead, we critics are on something like life support.