Lemon Hound surveys the critical landscape

January 27, 2010 by · 5 Comments 

The poet Sina Queyras is conducting an ongoing series of interviews about the practice of reviewing and criticism for her website, Lemon Hound. The people she’s interviewed so far – including Michael Turner, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Christian Bök, Michael Bryson, and Marjorie Perloff – come from a variety of backgrounds and approaches, and the diverse opinions about critical practices that they espouse make for fascinating reading.

Yr. humble correspondent is currently featured on the site. The process of answering Queyras’s questions has provided an opportunity for me to clarify certain ideas and theories of criticism in my own mind, and to actively engage with aspects of the current reviewing climate.

From the interview:

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend? Do you see this trend reversing, or changing course?

SB: The very fact that I blog about books – without remuneration and on my own time – should answer this question. Having said that, the fact that professional reviewers are not paid even close to what they are worth is a situation that needs to be redressed. It’s all well and good for enthusiasts who want to share their love of a particular book to fire up the Internet and bang out fifty words, but this is not remotely connected to the practice of criticism. Much of the discourse around books that we see online is the digital equivalent of a coffee klatch; it has as much to do with professional criticism as a game of pick-up basketball has to do with the NBA. There is some very good, thoughtful, careful writing to be found online. There is also a glut of careless, ill-considered, illogical, and badly written book chat that passes itself off as legitimate criticism. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that experienced critics – those connoisseurs who have devoted a lifetime to the reading and study of literature – are not able to make a living wage off of their writing. This simultaneously devalues their output and injures the literary culture at large, since a vibrant literary culture requires a vibrant critical culture in order to thrive. In the absence of incisive criticism – criticism, not cheerleading – a culture will become complacent, will stagnate, and eventually shrivel.


5 Responses to “Lemon Hound surveys the critical landscape”
  1. Susan Olding says:

    Good interview, Steven. Thoughtful, searching answers.

  2. Robert J. Wiersema says:

    I think I’m starting to see why you might feel constrained by a 350 word review… :)

  3. patricia says:

    An excellent interview, Steven. Worth reading many times. No wonder I’m so intimidated by you.

  4. Steven W. Beattie says:

    You’re intimidated by me? Who’s the one who invoked Paulie Walnuts?

  5. patricia says:

    All’s Paulie’s got is his walnuts. You, you’se gots brains. And walnuts. That’s a scary combo.

    But seriously, you give good interview.