Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS and the chair of this year’s Man Booker Prize panel of judges, thinks bloggers are loose cannons (or should I say loose “canons”) who read Ian Rankin and are the death of literary criticism and literature.
Much of what he says is colorfully paraphrased in two articles published in The Independent and The Guardian. The phrase “killing literary criticism” is used in The Independent, and “drowning out literary criticism” in The Guardian. It’s hard to know what he really said, especially now that I have added “loose cannon” to the mix.
According to The Guardian, “he expressed fears that the burgeoning amount of online opinion about books could be damaging to the future of writing.”
According to The Independent, he said,
Criticism needs confidence in the face of extraordinary external competition….It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same.”
Some animals are more equal than others.
But Stothard’s phrasing is much more tactful than that of similar attacks by American literary critics a couple of weeks ago. Dwight Garner in the NYT and Jason Silverman at Slate said that literary critics can no longer write criticism because bloggers and other social media writers can’t distinguish good writing from fandom (or something, something, something).
So glad this fantastic reasoning finally reached the UK.
I just want them to know that they’re right. At Frisbee, I am committed to killing criticism at TLS, The New York Times, Slate...and the world.
Let’s be realistic, boys. Do you know who my readers are? They are not necessarily your readers: if there is an overlap, they’re not deserting your publications for my blog. Even the fact that you think blogs are a threat shows me you don’t read them.
Think about it. TLS, NYT, LSD, oops, not that one, and then FRABJ. Nope, that last isn’t going to make it.
My readers are (a) other book lovers and bloggers; (b) people who come here to kill time; (c) college students who crib my posts about The Aeneid and Anna Karenina (which are, astonishingly, according to the stats, my most popular posts ); and (d) the rest are here to make sure no literary criticism is ever written again.
But I wan to tell you something you should know outright: bloggers are your friends! We may not write literary criticism. We may not WANT to write literary criticism. But we READ.
We are not your problem. We like your writing.
Newspapers have been in trouble at least since the ’80s. Two-and-three- newspaper towns became one-newspaper towns overnight. Book sections grew and shrank and grew again and shrank again…according to ads, as I understand it, which support newspapers (size = ads, yes?).
The internet has undoubtedly created competition. According to Eric Alterman’s excellent article, “Out of Print,” in The New Yorker, a quarter of newspaper jobs have been cut since 1990. And many readers (including me) have stopped buying newspapers (except for the local paper) because we can read them online free.
That is your problem. Your editors are making a lot of bad decisions. It’s just silly to blame book lovers and to say they don’t love books enough or know enough to criticize or express an opinion online at free blogs they write for fun and not for money.
It is all of our problem that the internet culture interrupts us so much. But think of it this way: many bloggers have long attention spans. At Twitter, not so much.
And bloggers cannot make literature worse. It’s already destroyed. Didn’t corporations gobble all the publishers in the mid-90s and drop their midlist writers? Didn’t Doris Lessing protest? Isn’t that why I spend my time rereading The Aeneid instead of reading the latest novel?
Though I like the Booker Prize.
Now here are two things I want to bring up briefly. This blaming of bloggers for the end of criticism seems to be a guy thing, and a class thing.
Guys are upset that their book sections are shrinking. Blogs are NOT shrinking. (So is this a shrinkage issue?) I’m sure there are gals who are threatened by bloggers, too, but I haven’t heard them on this.
Now here is another obvious, obvious issue. We’re talking about class.
Sir Peter Stothard, Dwight Gardner, and I love to read. And so we should be friends, right?
And Sir Peter and I were both classics majors. Dwight may have been a classics major, too, for all I know. His Wikipedia entry says only that he went to Middlebury.
So our backgrounds are not identical. The Independent tells me Peter went to Trinity College, Oxford, where he also edited the Cherwell student newspaper. My classics friends and I were scholarship students and teaching assistants at The University of ____ (fill in any state in the U.S.). We didn’t have time to do anything except read Greek and Latin and attempt to make sense of scholarly articles which were as clear upside down as rightside up.
I wonder if there might be just a touch of snobbery when Peter and Dwight look at blogs and realize we didn’t go to their school. I’m not saying there is, but think about it. Lots of people like to write, not everybody gets a writing job, and the internet gives everyone a “platform.” So what’s the difference between them and us? The critics are not getting it that we are not competing with them. They are competing with us, and why don’t we get it?
I AM your friend, bloggers and critics. I love reading literary journalism, book blogs, and book reviews. I just think it’s silly for newspaper guys to equate their problems with social media.
You’re projecting. What you’re really concerned about is the end of civilization. Think global warming, think fossil fuels, think college loans, think nukes, think no money for research for alternative engery, think politics, think the loss of your job, get a little upset over texting…but we’re all pawns, and we’re all indoors now, seduced by the internet where we’re more easily controlled, and it’s all about marketing and surveillance, yet it’s the height to daring for thousands and thousands of people without your or my education to be able to write on the internet. Where there’s writing, there’s reading.
And that’s a good thing.