Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why Criticism Matters

While preparing for a course that will tackle, among other topics, the state and fate of the "public intellectual" - and also contemplating a lecture I'll present this spring at my alma mater - I came across Stephen Burn's lovely account of collaborative thinking in the internet age:
The Internet calls people out of their loneliness to create electronic selves perhaps more naked or strident than the fuzzy, compromised “I” that moves ghostlike through its everyday routines and disagreements. A solitary reader, brooding over an obscure contemporary novel, or slowly puzzling out a page of “Finnegans Wake,” is suddenly not so solitary. Amid the network of networks there is always another reader, an improvised community into which she can merge and make visible her invented self...

A sensitive membrane has evolved from the historical transactions between author, critic and reader. Though online reviews inevitably vary in quality and insight, their very existence no longer makes it possible to imagine that there is not an engaged general-interest audience out there consuming and thinking about literary works. The audience now talks to itself.
Read more: Why criticism matters: Beyond the critic as cultural arbiter - also read the entire "Why Criticism Matters" colloquy.

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