Hot Copy: Reading and writing now
Penguin, 224 pp, $11.95 pb
From the enlightenment to post-modernity, there has been one common rallying cry: ‘This is the age of criticism.’ Religious authority, natural rights and philosophical dogmatism have all been under critique for so long that criticism has almost come to seem natural, authoritative and is in danger of hardening into dogma. Little surprise, then, that outside the academy the word ‘criticism’ is seldom linked with the venerable discourse of theology, politics and philosophy but rather with a comparatively recent and fluid phenomenon: Literature.
Like the essay, the ‘review goes back further than the academic article, dissertation or book. Wordsworth and Keats were reviewed long before their poems became the subject of academic debate, and the average competent article generally does little more than combine and refine several of these first responses. Questions of historical priority and belatedness aside, though, there are other mutations to consider. The reviewer’s right to comment upon contemporary high culture has largely been usurped by the literary critic; and the venue has changed from the newspaper and magazine to the journal and conference. The review pages of our newspapers are increasingly taken up with commentary upon popular and middlebrow culture. There are exceptions, but high culture tends to be noticed in the media only when it bears the mark of a spectacle: the melancholy face of ageing Patrick White, an opera costing thousand’s, or a modernist painting being bought or stolen.