Literature and Criticism – Immutable Canon or Ongoing Debate?
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.
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.