Taking The Long View on Criticism
Today, we launch our new long-form review series, The Long View. Wheeler Centre director Michael Williams explains the thinking behind the series.
One of the most frustrating things about working at the Wheeler Centre is coming up with names for things. Now, a few months into our third year of programming, we’re doing at least half a dozen events a week, with numerous series and programmes, each of which needs a snappy name to give an idea of what it is and why it exists. It’s harder than naming a child (how much easier it would be if that panel series could be called Henry, or that lecture Persephone) or a rock band (I’m reserving the name Dewey Decimal, just in case). It can be tear-your-hair-out material.
In launching our new fortnightly series of current affairs events we agonised for weeks, trying to come up with a name that captured everything we wanted from it. We know what it is: a series that moves beyond the limitations of contemporary media, resists the glibness of the 24-hour news cycle, the inanity of constant commentary and opinion. A series that presents a more measured, more considered, more deliberative alternative. In The Fifth Estate we finally found that title: one that we feel captures the ambition and the complexity of the project.
But along the way, one of the ideas we kept coming back to was that of the ‘long view’, a concept that underpins so much of what we’re trying to do with the Centre. A long view denotes the luxury of perspective; of a broader context.
In establishing the Wheeler Centre, our team has constantly had to think about both our short term priorities and programming, and also the longer term goals and visions for what we’re trying to achieve. We believe passionately that the role of a Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas should go beyond merely housing our six resident organisations and coming up with a public programme of events. We believe there are other gaps to be filled and conversations to be held, and that there are ideas to be promoted and explored in ways other than through people sitting on a stage talking.
In 2010, we held a week-long series of events exploring the state of arts criticism in this country. Considering the worlds of books and theatre, music, visual arts and cinema, our panels reflected on the ways in which a limited or constrained critical culture held back our artists and our arts. One of the recurring themes was the shortage of outlets for long-form criticism and reviewing, a form of cultural commentary that all our panellists identified as essential for supporting rich artistic expression.
The week was provocative, thought-provoking and ultimately – as all good events seem to do – left us with a palpable sense that there was work to be done. There are amazing reviewers and critics in this country, doing extraordinary work in both conventional media outlets and through new and emerging channels. But the fact remains that the opportunities for publication of this criticism are becoming fewer and farther between. Newspaper sections devoted to arts criticism grow increasingly thin. Dedicated and specialist magazines and journals are finding the publishing environment ever more perilous.
So it’s with delight that we announce that, with the support of Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), we’ve commissioned ten long-form pieces of literary criticism for publication on this website over the next few months.
We think adopting a long view when it comes to considering and discussing the world of books, writing and ideas frees us up to dig deeper, to better understand the context into which new voices are publishing and the nature of the tradition to which they belong. We will feature contributions from critics and novelists, journalists and academics, encouraging readers and critics to take the time to consider our literature with a little more depth.
Plus, it gives us the chance to resurrect a name we otherwise weren’t using. So it’s win/win.