Mon 18 November 2019
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A crisis in literary criticism?
Spain’s El País newspaper has pronounced a state of crisis in worldwide literary criticism

In an article on Saturday, Winston Manrique Sabogalinterviewed some of the foremost names in literary journalism, including 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. 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. A choice quotation:

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…

Them’s fighting words. The commentators largely agree that there’s not the budget nor the independence that sustained literary criticism requires. 

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Melville House Books

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