literary criticism

There are two premises to this book of essays: first, crudely put, no-one gives a shit about Canadian novels, and second, they’re no good anyway. Now that I think about it, there’s a third, and it’s the most problematic: the reason Canadian fiction is no good is that a range of spent old volcanoes has […]

First appeared in The Guardian Too many academics have abandoned clarity and enthusiasm for cliquey obscurity Most readers of lit crit would doubtless agree that clear, persuasive, interesting writing is key. Why then are academics so intent on obfuscation? I recently found myself browsing and brooding over some early works by the literary critics Frank […]

Literary Criticism – or the body of critics – should be to the writer what the Roman senate was to the Roman general in the field: an unseen presence sitting sternly in judgment over his blunders; but also voting him a triumph if he did his duty well. Shall I indulge in the sarcasm of […]

In a recent article entitled ‘Two Paths for the Novel’, Zadie Smith praises what requires criticism, and criticizes what deserves praise; erects straw men in order, simply, to blow them over, and presents arguments, which, when valid, are so for the wrong reasons. Her thinking is convoluted and self contradictory. Smith starts off her highly […]

Most of us, through a combination of personal experience, education and advice from others, cultivate and try to follow as best we can, a set of values, ‘final narratives,’ beliefs, or central convictions about politics, love, sex, money, religion beauty, justice…in order to live a life we deem worth living. Great works of literature, when […]

In literature vulgarity is preferable to nullity, just as grocer’s port is preferable to distilled water. — W. H. Auden In his recent book On Criticism, Noel Carroll informs us that the goal of criticism is to discover what is valuable and worthy of attention, and to provide compelling reasons why. Evaluation presupposes comparisons which […]

First appeared in the Critical Flame Reading Geoffrey Hill’s Collected Critical Writings feels a lot like what it might to step into a graduate seminar in 19th century poetry without having taken the prerequisite courses, or completed the required reading. It will not be immediately understood by ‘a common well educated, thoughtful man of ordinary […]

First appeared in Rain Taxi Review of Books by Nigel Beale This book is best read by the light of another, John Carey’s What Good are the Arts? (Oxford University Press, 2006), a witty, truculent, masterful polemic which argues that a “work of art is anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art, […]

Reports of the Critic’s death have been greatly exaggerated Contrary to what the title of Ronan McDonald’s new book may tell you, the critic is not dead. He’s alive and crowing on the Internet. Today we can get all the criticism ever voiced in history, on the Web. We also get what rankles right now, […]

First appeared in Escape Into Life What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves. […]