Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Year of the Critical Discussion



Over on Salon, Laura Miller interviews literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn, who has just published Waiting for the Barbarians, a collection of his criticisms.

The short interview ranges through many of the arguments about the state of literary criticism that appeared during 2012, including memoir, non-fiction versus fiction, positive reviews, social media cheerleading, etc. Many of these arguments were crossover hits into the world of theater and film as well.

Here Laura Miller brings up the eternal accusation of the critical agenda:
MILLER: Another form that takes is the author’s response to a bad review. Before, you might complain about it with your friends on the phone or over coffee. Now, that sort of angst often gets expressed on Facebook or Twitter. Or a writer’s friends will take up the cause in those forums and drop sinister remarks about the reviewer’s ulterior “agenda.” 
MENDELSOHN: They always say that! Of course, if you’re talking about a professional assignment, no good editor would allow that to happen. I don’t think it’s Pollyanna-ish or naive to say that if you were given an assignment and you had some personal gripe against the author, you would recuse yourself. I’ve done that. But people always instantly assume that you had it in for that person when you’ve written a negative review. It’s a pernicious myth. Of course, we do have agendas that are aesthetic. That’s different. That’s a legitimate agenda.People also have the idea, especially if you’re not liking something very popular, that you’ve been gunning for it the whole time. In my experience, that’s never the case. You always go to a movie or open a book hoping that you’re going to like it. You don’t say, “Oh, everyone loves ‘Mad Men,’ so I’m going to knock it down!” Because why would you put yourself through that? This is actual work. I don’t want to sit through something I hate, knowing that I’m going to have to criticize it strongly. You always start out with an open mind.

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