Monday, October 01, 2007

Reviewers on reviewing

Getting ready for the Word on the Street chat mentioned below, I went back to some of the collections of literary criticism that make up my own critical conscience, circle of elders, etc. (I ended up not really needing the prep, though I did get in the Clive James bit about the underlining students.)

Mostly it was the introductions I was interested in, because it was there that the critics – usually many years on from the deadline-shadowed and money-starved times in which they wrote most of the reviews collected therein – took a moment to assess the nature of the work they'd done:
[I]t is an unexpected consequence of becoming known as a writer that you are assumed to be competent to assess other writers. [...] It was, of course, flattering to be asked, but only up to a point: newspapers and magazines have to be filled, and if you won't do it someone else will. It is only the very prolific or the very needy who can afford to say yes to everything. - Philip Larkin, Required Writing

The hack and the whore have much in common: late nights, venal gregariousness, social drinking, a desire to please, simulated liveliness, dissimulated exhaustion – you keep on having to do it when you don't feel like it. - Martin Amis, The Moronic Inferno

I never knew that my early critical bits and pieces would be the sleepers. One hesitates to imply that they are bound for immortality, or even that they have lasted in any integral sense: but there always seems to be a new generation of students – real students, the ones who don't need an exam to keep them reading – who seek out my first collections of criticism in second-hand bookshops and bring them to be autographed at book-signings. They hang around afterwards. I recognize them: they are the way I once was. Just from the way their clothes look slept in you can tell that they write in margins and fill endpapers with notes. Having hustled a second glass of cheap white wine, they want to quarrel with some phrase that I long ago forgot I ever wrote. They've got it there, underlined, with three exclamation marks to indicate disbelief. They want to argue, but on one thing they agree: they don't think I wasted my time writing this stuff. They think I wasted my time writing anything else. - Clive James, At the Pillars of Hercules

1 comment:

Ognir Rrats said...

A better title for that post would have been "Once Upon a Time".