Monday, February 19, 2007

Reviews and their effect on literature

Robert Archambeau provides a summary of (and interesting commentary on) an article by Marilyn Butler, "The Review: Culture's Medium." Before I start paraphrasing his paraphrase, may I suggest that you just check out his post? :-)

Butler looks at how the types of literary reviews published in the nineteenth century influenced how writers wrote. When the reviews were more general cultural reviews, writers began to write differently. In Archambeau's words: "So the journals in which literature was reviewed created a climate to which the writers responded. Writers, seeing their works treated in the context of social debate, came to see themselves as participants in that debate, and wrote accordingly."

As reviews began to be "more specifically literary," writers, too, began to focus more on literature, apart from general trends in the culture. This time in Butler's words: "Reviews were getting professionally self-reflexive, in that articles and books on the lives and personalities of men and women of letters were filling the place once reserved for articles and books on statesmen and men of action."

As Archambeau goes on to point out, such shifts have serious consequences for literature: "The inclusion of poetry in a more general cultural discourse leads to certain results; and one imagines the limiting of poetry to specifically literary contexts — as has happened in our own time — will lead to very different results." Today, after all, "poetry is reviewed and discussed primarily in literary journals." Archambeau points out two implications of this for poetry:

1. "Style über alles." (Note the snowclone: X über alles.)

2. "Sentimental politics rather than politics of a more hands-on variety."

If you have not read RA's post by now, I hope that all these tidbits get you interested. Feel free to comment here, since RA does not have a comment function on his blog!

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