Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Kevin Wignall

I've always been struck by the extent to which academic criticism strives hard to find something to say - perhaps because many works, particularly novels, need little exposition. In an attempt to raise the level of discussion above that of the reading group, I've endured lengthy discourses from teachers and tutors on the subliminal meanings included by Thomas Hardy in "The Mayor of Casterbridge" or Solzhenitsyn in "One Day in the Life...". Yet, in my view, the level of the reading group is exactly where any art form should be discussed - Did you enjoy it? How did it make you feel? What does it have to say about our lives, or even about the past? I'm assuming this isn't considered intellectually rigorous enough for most academics, but I have no doubt it's closer to the truth of what most writers are trying to achieve. If I write about a death, I want the impact on the reader to be almost physical, for them to feel it first, then to think about it, perhaps to discuss it, not for it to be the subject of some dry critical analysis. Surely if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be less thrilled by the number of academic texts on "Romeo and Juliet" than he would be by the fact that Baz Luhrman moved a whole new audience with his film of the same.


"..And criticism that ultimately convinces readers to give a particular book a try, but perhaps also provides perspective or information that makes reading it more rewarding, would be in my opinion criticism that redeems the very potential of literary criticism..."

For me, this sums up what I think is the best lit crit, and the reason that I search it out and read it. The works that make me dive into a new book that I might not have ever tried or the works that make me go back again to reread and enjoy a work anew. Just it my most recent reading this is something Harry Mathews accomplished in his Collected Essays with regards to Queneau, Lautreamont, McElroy, Perec, etc.

Robert Nagle

Isn't it interesting that criticism wandered away from appreciation at about the same time that modernists were confusing readers with obscure references and strange narrative techniques? Modernists created poems that required footnotes for understanding and appreciation (fueling the demand for academic explication).

I believe lit crit's primary role should be discovery/rediscovery, not explication. So much is out of print/unknown that it's easy for even well-informed people to overlook important/interesting works. Historical context and explication is beneficial only if it helps to justify the work's value. The perfect example to come to mind is David Lodge's insightful book review of Pnin (,12084,1211200,00.html ) which induced me to read the book. Until I saw this book review, I had no way of knowing how I ought to approach this book. Now I have a better idea.

Dan Green

Actually, I would argue that modernist or "difficult" literature only makes the kind of descriptive criticism I mention even more important--like what the Lodge review seems to have done. Instead, mainstream book reviewing and criticism has become more and more single-mindedly evaluative, at the same time that academic criticism has abandoned even the sort of "explication" you refer to.


I was also puzzled by Robinson's constricted idea of criticism. My favorite critics are neither academic (although some have had jobs in the academy) nor evaluative (although some have made spare change as reviewers). They write about art for the same reasons any writer might write about anything: something between impulse and need. "Pleasure, like pain, is a signal to pay attention. Attract the attention of a verbosely analytical person and you get verbal analysis."

Robert Nagle's "discovery" seems much more to the point of criticism at its best: a desire to share experience.

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