Criticism in Our Digital Age

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.

Comments

re: blog reviewers

Of all the gazzilions of blogs, if your Mr Sillliman's writing is your best example of unpaid blog writing that you believe surpasses Nick Hornby's, or for that matter Ms Cooke's, then you will never understand why nobody is ever likely to hire Mr Silliman to write anything for any widely read, respected newspaper

That's

just stupid.

Franks Film and one or two minor matters

well, mr quackenbush, you have to be a bit careful about giving links to articles. i've just read the article and re-read yours and you say that rachel cooke doesn't name the blogs she's visited but in fact she does (i quote):

Hill's blog, I've already dealt with. From there I went to a site all bloggers recommend, Dove Grey Reader, which is written by a 'sock-knitting quilter' from Devon. I was pleased that she was 'truly hooked from the first line onwards' by Arnaldur Indridason's thriller Silence of the Grave, and it does sound good - but I have friends to recommend thrillers to me. Grumpy Old Book Man is, according to the Guardian, one of the top 10 book blogs. Eh? Even its author admits it's an 'acquired taste' (here he is on Jeffrey Archer: 'Good old Jeffrey. He's always good for a laugh, isn't he?') Finally, to Reading Matters by 'kimbofo', an Australian in London. Do we really need to know that Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go has been on her TBR (To Be Read) pile for a year, or that she bought it as part of a discounted set of Booker novels? Pooter lives!

now, i don't know anything about lit blogs (i've only been looking at yours and - just today - silliman's [which i think is very interesting]) so i don't know if she has picked up any of the ones you consider to be good or not but if you feel she has picked the wrong ones you could point out some good ones to her.

but i guess there is not going to be much in common between you two guys anyway. i mean nick hornby (i haven't read his criticism but have read one of his novels) is a long, long way from Franks Film (see one of Silliman's nov blogs, which i very much enjoyed).

cheers, fall guy

she cites four blogs,

she cites four blogs, doesn't give specific examples of things that are wrong with them, then claims that she "read and read" and couldn't find one sentence as good as something in the polysyllabic spree. If she's entitled to hysterical exaggeration in service of her point, I think i'm entitled to call her on it in a like manner.