Friday, August 10, 2007

Literary criticism at weblogs

There is an article by Sven Birkerts about various things business and internet, including remarks by Cynthia Ozick, at called "Lost in the Blogosphere: Why literary blogging won't save our literary culture." He writes, "So far it's clear that the blogosphere is in vital ways still predatory on print, that the daisy-chain needs the pretext of some original daisy; its genius, its essence, is manifestly supplementary."

"The controversy has to do with the fact that people in various quarters, literary bloggers prominently among them, are proposing that old-style print reviewing -- the word-count-driven evaluation of select titles by credentialed reviewers -- is outmoded, and that the deficit will be more than made up by the now-flourishing blog commentary."

Long before the internet, I worked at a regional upstate New York newspaper in the 1980s. I edited wire. There was little in the way of book reviewing at that paper, and the books that came in for review -- in case there were someone to review them -- were of little significance. They were chunks of thinly sliced lumber. In defending print culture and credentials, Birkerts doesn't mention books like that or newspapers that already lacked arts coverage. The newspaper's readers were "ordinary folks" who presumably didn't read many books.

Most of us in the literary blogosphere read both print and on the internet and are saddened at the loss of traditional business at newspapers that Birkerts regrets. Birkerts seems to imagine a flourishing blogosphere of talkers who tend not to read books, but who "review" books. It is my impression that many of us in the literary blogosphere are in print, and many are trained. The issue he doesn't mention is pay: how to do it? I have thought that a genius for our time will be someone who invents a way.

According to Birkerts, Ozick has commented in Harper's that she would like to see the literary culture become a culture of criticism.

"What is needed," Ozick writes, "is a broad infrastructure, through a critical mass of critics, of the kind of criticism that can define, or prompt, or inspire, or at least intuit, what is happening in a culture in a given time frame. . . . In this there is something almost ceremonial, or ceremoniously slow: unhurried thinking, the ripened long (or sidewise) view, the gradualism of nuance."

Blogs have been a forgotten art form from the beginning, but they are serving a crucial role in keeping inquiry afloat. I anticipate a big wave of literary print elite writers who are coming to the internet, who will be agented there, who will not have created the internet, who are not technically-oriented, and who will, in effect, take over with their more prodigious talents and their headshots, whose publishing sponsors will charge. Shall we become their literary critics? Shall we gossip about them?

Or be our own sponsors & enjoy a lighter life.


Nada said...


Christa M. Forster said...

Oh, yes! Let's be our own sponsors and enjoy the lighter life. Today a quote from William Blake came to me in my inbox: "No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings." I don't believe in the literary clippers. They exist of course, but I hope not to abide in their universe.

Christa M. Forster said...

P.S. I commented before I saw you had linked to my poem. I'm glad you like that poem. And I'm happy you realized that it was written expressly for you.