ABR Ian Potter Foundation Fellowship: 'Everyone’s a Critic' by Kerryn Goldsworthy

‘We place on paper without hesitation a tissue of flatteries, to which in society we could not give utterance, for our lives, without either blushing or laughing outright,’ wrote Edgar Allan Poe in 1846. His title was ‘The Literati of New York City’; his topic was the discrepancy, as he saw it, between the critics’ private opinions of books and the polite reviews of them that appeared in print. Literary criticism in New York in the middle of the nineteenth century, Poe argued, was essentially corrupt: a matter of back-scratching, currying favour, and chasing after influence, power, and money.

But then, Poe in 1846 was a youngish man of extreme opinions, and he was better known by his contemporaries not for the Gothic fictions most closely associated with his name today, but rather by a nickname that queasily acknowledged his own reviewing style: ‘Tomahawk Man’.

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Published in May 2013 no. 351
Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy won the 2013 Pascall Prize. A former Editor of ABR (1986–87), she is one of Australia’s most prolific and respected literary critics. She taught for almost two decades at the University of Melbourne. Her publications include several anthologies, a critical study of Helen Garner, and her recent book Adelaide, which was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2012. In November 2012 she was named as the inaugural ABR Ian Potter Foundation Fellow. Her Fellowship article on reviewing, ‘Everyone’s a Critic’, appeared in the May 2013 issue of ABR.

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    I think that James Bradley's comment about the gregariousness of blogging is really important in the discussion of what criticism is for. You can on your own blog simply say, "look at what I found here, and here, and here, you might find this stimulating." This can be ideas, or books, or book reviews by people you respect. You can let the reader do his/her own work. This works against the follow-the-trend dynamic and gives people more chance to decide if they want to read the book. You are of course assuming a reader who doesn't just want to be told what he/she should be reading. Perhaps part of the problem, related to the reviewer/publisher tie-up is that a lot of people do want that. I always think of the advice to be an "active listener" when I think about reading book reviews - you need to be an active, questioning reader of reviews too.

    Friday, 02 May 2014 16:14 posted by Joan Kerr

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