Literature’s self-implosion? Or Groucho Marx Syndrome?

John Mullan reviews Rónán McDonald’s The Death of the Critic in the TLS:

Nowadays, there are more critical responses than ever, but critical authority has been devolved from the experts. McDonald surveys the rise of blogs and readers’ reviews, of television and newspaper polls and reading groups, under the heading “We Are All Critics Now”. He argues that the demise of critical expertise brings not a liberating democracy of taste, but conservatism and repetition. “The death of the critic” leads not to the sometimes vaunted “empowerment” of the reader, but to “a dearth of choice”. It is hardly a surprise to find him taking issue with John Carey’s anti-elitist What Good Are the Arts? (2005), with its argument that one person’s aesthetic judgement cannot be better or worse than another’s, making taste an entirely individual matter. McDonald proposes that cultural value judgements, while not objective, are shared, communal, consensual and therefore open to agreement as well as dispute. But the critics who could help us to reach shared evaluations have opted out. The distance between Ivory Tower and Grub Street has never been greater. While other academic disciplines have seen the rise of the professional popularizer of art, music and film, literary expertise has sealed itself off in the academy. McDonald believes that the main reason for the gulf between academic and non-academic criticism is “the turn from evaluative and aesthetic concerns in the university humanities’ departments”. He does not bemoan the influence of the Richard and Judy Book Club or the internet; he blames his fellow academics.