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Literary Criticism
​Literature and Criticism – Immutable Canon or Ongoing Debate?

Kracht, Mayröcker, Schubert, Hanika
© KiWi, © Suhrkamp, © dtv, © Droschl

Literary criticism is seen by some today just as it was seen two hundred years ago, namely as a dodgy profession practised by journalistic hacks; for others, it offers an indispensable entry point to the bountiful riches of the literary imagination; others again require it to serve as a kind of intermediary enabling them amidst the seasonal torrent of new books to differentiate the good from the bad and the new from the all-too-familiar.

Be that as it may: whenever distinctions are drawn and judgements made, whenever  books are given a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, upset and anger are never far away. Literary criticism is thus ever contentious, its worth and even its right to exist are denied, it is accused of patronising its readers. It has attracted such accusations whenever the various media have given it it house room, and these accusations have been trumpeted with the full force of whatever form of communication happens to be available, be it print media, radio, TV or the internet.

Hermann, Sharon Dodua Otoo, Mithu Sanyal, Shida Bayzar © S. Fischer, © S. Fischer, © Carl Hanser, © KiWi

The arguments wheeled out for and against literary criticism very largely mirror the cultural, economic and sociopolitical debates that society in general happens to be engaged in at that particular juncture in other spheres too. These wider issues might relate to revolution and the class struggle, to political representation, to questions of identity in a global but not necessarily equitably organised world. But those who value literature as a medium attempting to deal with the world ‘as it is, and as it ought to be’ should not deny criticism the right to measure books against their own claims and aspirations.

Baron, Thomae, Wenzel, Bayzar © Ullstein, © Hanser Literaturverlage, © S. Fischer, © KiWi