23 May 2012

"In the Chloroformed Sanctuary": Tim Parks on Academic Criticism

On the blog of the NYRB, Tim Parks laments the process of academic criticism of literature. It's an interesting discussion, even if he does seem to be speaking from a place of ignorance ("The academic, though hardly well off, is more reliably salaried within a solid university institution." Ha! I wish!)
[T]hese pieces contain useful, almost “common sense” observations on the texts they are talking about. Yet this common sense is made to seem arduous through the use of unnecessary jargon. There is also a solemnity that combines with the ugliness of style to push the writing towards bathos. I suspect Davies’ metaphor of “twelve gaps” being “a seed” that “grew into roughly eight-hundred-and-twenty-five gaps” would have had Beckett laughing out loud.
What is in it for these critics? They stake out a field in which only a relatively small group of initiates can compete; their writing is safe from public scrutiny, it threatens no one and can do little damage; at the same time they may enjoy the illusion of possessing, encompassing, and even somehow neutralizing the most sparkling and highly regarded creations of the imagination.
Take a look.

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