Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Critical Task

Interesting post as ever by Patrick Kurp on the role of the critic.

A brief excerpt:

“A critic must write well, care about books and possess good taste and good sense. If his prose is slipshod or dull, if ideology means more to him than style, if he claims to admire bad or mediocre books, he loses the thoughtful reader’s respect. And while celebration makes for the best criticism, negative reviews in the right hands can be turned into the mirror-image of celebration, and usually offer more opportunities for laughs.”

I’m with that pretty much all the way. The best critics have a passion for literature, a desire to stand up for what’s good and knock down what’s bad. I doubt whether ideology can be separated from these judgements in the clear-cut way described above, but one should try.

While all critical judgements are subjective, they need to be argued for. There are more than enough people these days arguing that everything is relative and no opinion counts for more than any other, which is, I think, an abdication of responsible thought, as if – for the first time in history – 21st century human beings have neither the capacity nor the will to discriminate between what’s worth carrying forward and what ought to be dumped on the kerbside.


Jane Holland said...

That last is absolutely true. I've been arguing for The Waste Land as a milestone in twentieth-century poetry over on the POF forum in the face of several young people saying things about it like 'not worth the effort' and 'a crap poem to read' and 'dull', the final nail in the coffin of Eliot's contribution to poetry as we know it being that apparently nothing in poetry today would change if The Waste Land was expunged from history. (Though interestingly, the word actually used was 'eliminated' - as though there was a secret underlying fear that, in fact, Eliot might turn out to be a rival and should be summarily despatched under cover of darkness.)

There go the young, in the greatest era of information technology the world has known so far, blithely ignoring the facts and the evidence, and rewriting history in their own image.

It'll be you and me next, Rob. You and me for the chop.

Rob said...

At least chopping me from any possible future canon wouldn't take more than about 3 seconds!

I agree on The Wasteland though. I really like it, and its influence on literature is both pervasive and incalculable.