Sunday, January 2, 2011

Notes on Audience and Criticism, No. 1

I'm using my blog now partly as a commonplace book. Last night I came across this article or series of articles at the New York Times about why criticism matters. Since the one I read discusses in part how the Internet has changed views of audience in fiction and writing, I decided to bookmark it. Stephen Burns writes:
While (Alfred) Kazin could complain in 1960 that “the audience doesn’t know what it wants,” with the advent of Amazon reviews and other rating sites the audience is abundantly vocal. 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.
I've been mulling over these kinds of thoughts and concepts in contemplation of my graduate thesis.

On page two of his piece, Burns discusses how the changing role of the critic (influenced by amateur reviewers blogging on books who are more fair) may result in freeing professional critics to reevaluate genre boundaries and the evolution of the novel and may spur them to be less narrow-minded. I can applaud that.

His ending resonates with me:
Stepping aside from the culture of opinion, delving deeper into open-minded analysis, critics might fulfill their most important function: locating major works that are not always visible in mainstream networks.
I hope so. I have been saying for a while now that while social and digital media make it easier for writers to see their works published and distributed, it also means we'll see a rise of writers who don't necessarily write well but self-market well. If only the writers who have a knack for self-promotion come to our attention--their adept manipulations on Twitter drowning the quieter voices of writers who focus creative energies on writing--we are doomed indeed.

You may also listen to this NYT Book Review podcast about criticism and critical writing.

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