Criticism has proven itself to be the tool that can discern works of literature. Standards, measures, ranks and hierarchy can be various and depending upon the person who indulges in the act of criticism. However, the benefits of objective criticism cannot be ignored. It was there in the times of Dr Johnson (debatable whether objective or not) and it was also there in the times of T. S. Eliot. Likewise, it was there during the most fiercest time of literary politics or political literature when Dryden, Pope, Shadewell, Swift and likes of them were actively producing literature as well as critical literature. Today, unfortunately, journalists (mostly) indulge in criticism. Whether they are aware about literary tools, devices, theory and so on… or not is a question of ambiguity, but the thing that we all should be concerned with is that there are very few professional or formal or true literary critics who are reading contemporary literature… and this is, to say the least, very unfortunate for literature in the present times.
Though there are many logical problems associated with the acts by those who play the role of a critic without being theoretically trained for such jobs, the biggest issue that concerns me instantly is the bias that these supposed critics display in their judgements about the books they read and critique. For example, literature journalists are also, generally, lifestyle journalists and even culture journalists. And therefore, their specialisation in literature is not only ‘gain-as-you-work’ but also very personal. You can read a few reviews in The Hindu or The Indian Express and you will experience the communist’s exploration. They will read a book with bias overloaded and will vomit the same out without any extra coating of fabricated literary phrases. Well, the same might be experienced in terms of movie reviews as well. There were a few reviewers who told that Baahubali will be a flop movie because it lacks soul… you can understand their stance.
On the other hand, lack of professional critics or truly literary critics have also emboldened the naive writers who can write almost anything and pass it as literature to the young audience who are influenced by first-page advertisements and ‘influencer’ reviews. Instagram has become a place for literary criticism and a cover image of the book with some candles and photo frames and a long write-up describing how the writer has used grammar, lexicon, and blurb becomes a ‘review’ of the book… and this is, to be precise and bluntly honest, the most absurd form of literary criticism I have ever witnessed. Nothing about the ethcs of literature, writers’ interests in employing plots and themes, use of symbols and imagery, lack of thrust in the storyline or presence of it… there is nothing literary about the modern criticism that unprofessional and fancy people are indulged in. And this state, sorry to say, is not only sad but also very alarming for the future of literature to dawn in our country.
Well, one cannot say that who should become a critic and who should not. However, I will appeal to all those fresh literary minds out of colleges or universities to indulge in this noble act of criticism and let the readers know about books and authors of the day. This will not only help the general readers understand a work of literature from different perspectives but also suggest or hint the authors to become better and better as they write more and more. Without literary criticism, there comes a gap in the production of quality literature. And true literary criticism, to be frank, is not something that lifestyle journalists can casually do… save us from that!
by Gunjan for Indian Book Critics