Finding a New Direction for Criticism

Yesterday’s ALR in the Australian, ran an article on the state of Australian criticism by Geordie Williamson calling for a return to old-style reviewing and scholarship.

Williamson has a hit list of what to keep from critical theory (“Greater circumspection in making broad or universalist claims” and “A healthy suspicion of fixed literary canons”) as well aspects to throw out notably “a disregard for literature’s special status, lumping it with every other form of writing, from bus tickets to bumper stickers”. It’s a bold piece of writing in which Williamson lays a blueprint for the future of criticism.

While he acknowledges the importance of the internet as “ridiculously cheap, blisteringly fast and the online community it engenders is one that thrives on argument and constant to-and-fro”, he doesn’t see it as the democratic saviour of criticism. While he sees the potential of the web as a tool, he hasn’t seen this potential met, decrying that “For every brilliant new blogger that has emerged, 100 pallid yes-men (and women) have sprung up.”

It’s a view supported by ALR editor, Stephen Romei, in his last blog post as editor (he moves on to become the Australian’s literary editor). Romei defends the piece because “the internet age means we need old-fashioned literary critics, humanist thinkers such as Geordie, more than ever”.

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