Is the era of criticism and critics over?
By Ehab Elmallah
In his book entitled “The Death of the Critic”, the British critic Ronan McDonald depicts a radical transformation in the study of arts and literature in the sense that replaced the specialized reader by the unspecialized one. The specialized reader used to belong to the academic institution of criticism, or to the journals and periodicals that allowed the critics in previous decades a vast field of influence, whether the specialized critics who published their articles and commentaries in specialized magazines reviewing books or novels or other literary genres, or those critics who published in the cultural sections of popular western newspapers on Sundays.
McDonald attributed what he called “the paleness” of the critic’s role, and the decrease of the critic’s presence, to his/her shifting away from what the critics in the Arab field of criticism call “Enlightened Criticism”, retreating to his/her academic shelter, being satisfied with the writing of essays and studies that nobody understands except the elite that is acquainted with the language of terminology and its notions, as well as the modern complex methodologies to approach the literary works. Such methodologies guide critical writing towards ignoring the interests of the wide majority of readers that need an introduction to the literary and artistic works, shedding lights on them, connecting them to the contexts of their production and the conditions of their appearance, while presenting their special aspects and how much they add to the literary genre of their category.
Accordingly, can we say that literary criticism has become old fashioned? Has it died? And what good is a discipline that has isolated itself in the towers of academic institutions or has shrunk to become merely an annex of cultural production?
May be those questions – or some of them- occupy the focus in regards to what was being discussed in the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century in relation to criticism in France and Germany, the two countries that were considered as the traditional centres of criticism in Europe and from there to the United States and the rest of the world.