Rachel Cooke asks recently in an op-ed piece in The Guardian if we "amateur word spewers" would really do without Nick Hornby who Cooke feels has set the Gold Standard for criticism to which no lit blog can aspire.
I feel confident in answering that yes, I would be quite content to live in a world without Nick Hornby and his brand of insipid, uninspired prose. More to the point, I want to challenge the central unstated and unargued for premise that Cooke's position relies upon, the idea that if you pay someone for something, it's worth more. I'm not going to bother listing off the names of the reams of professional critics—cough, Brad Leithauser Michiko Kakutani Glyn Maxwell Dale Peck James Woods Nick Hornby Jonathan Franzen Heidi Julatvits, cough—whose contributions, and I use that word in the most sarcastic possible way, to professional criticism are not only completely useless but also so ill founded as to render them meaningless as well. Cooke seems to believe that her opinion has value through the simple fact that she's managed to con a couple of British newspapers into paying her for her opinions. I'm here to inform her that this belief is remarkably unsound. I don't, thankfully, have to argue against it since Cooke, as a professional critic who is well versed in the art of making a refined and well-constructed argument, has left this belief strictly implicit and unsupported in her article.
As a result I don't need to point out that the criticism one finds on various lit blogs is of a different kind than the nauseatingly stupid book reviews that are the part and parcel of the literary sections of newspapers that Cooke is defending. I don't need to point out that hardly anyone reads those sections anyway, and their value, as is illustrated by the advertising void they represent in various papers, is largely as a prestige point for the papers that make their money elsewhere. I don't need to list the names of the dozens of lit blogs, Ron Silliman's for example, that do a far better job of covering various aspects of literature than can be got from publications that pay their critics. I don't even need to point out that Cooke's thesis is supported solely by a survey of lit blogs which she doesn't even bother to name, expecting us to simply trust that she's made a fair selection and that her negative opinion of them is sound. No, all that's necessary is to note that this article is a terrible piece of criticism and was written by a Professional Critic. This fact completely undercuts the article's thesis that Professional Critics are more skilled at the craft of criticism than other people. If this is what passes for criticism among Professional Critics, then the assertion that Pros are better at it that online amateurs is ridiculous. It's not the case. If amateur criticism is bad, at least the amateurs can point to the fact that they are untrained and doing it out of love, making no claim to authority. What's Rachel Cooke's excuse?
In other words, Ms. Cooke, you've made the argument for us about why you and your kind are irrelevant. Which is great for me, since as an online critic I obviously don't care about criticism, I just like to shoot off my mouth. Come to think of it, with that definition of the online critic, I think it's high time Ms. Cooke started a blog of her own.