The protection of everyone by everyone

HBut the writers actually deserve to be said to not poke an eye at one another? So is it true that, for fear of making enemies of their colleagues, they always use their books, even the unsuccessful ones, to only communicate something friendly and thus mislead the audience?

The experience that one cannot criticize one’s colleague harshly without inciting him to revenge goes back to the beginnings of modern literary criticism. Back then, the author of the scolding was protected by keeping his name secret. This solution, which is still in use in the review procedures of scientific journals, has long since disappeared from literary criticism. Instead, the social role of the pure literary critic was invented who, as a journalist without literary ambition, knows himself to be independent of the collegial recognition of writers and therefore does not have to spare it. Of course, the professional critic also makes himself unpopular if he judges relentlessly, but for him that no longer means any personal risk: only the audience has to appreciate him who trust his value judgment, but not the authors who apply it.

Two books on the difficulties of peer criticism among writers have recently appeared. In the first, the new edition of an interview that the literary scholar Peter von Matt once conducted with Marcel Reich-Ranicki, the latter repeats the thesis about the solidarity of the crows: The mutual dependencies of writers are so great that they can make an appropriate judgment in many cases prevented. Then you either get to read a criticism that praises mediocre literary works to become masterpieces, or that well-balanced reprimand, which, even in the face of unsuccessful books, is anxious to avoid the slap that is actually due. It is obvious that such objections, put forward by this literary critic, provide a justification for his own rowdiness. But couldn’t they still be true?

Kind words for books, no matter how bad

The American sociologist has nearly forty American writers who occasionally write book reviews for various respected newspapers Phillipa K. Chong confronted with the irritating topic of criticism of favor. The answers that her book, which is well worth reading, gives a very differentiated picture.

The notion of mutual praise apparently applies above all to a middle class of established writers who are neither newcomers nor superstars in the industry. You have found a publisher and publish successfully, but long ago so much that the prospect of a literary prize, opportunities to earn extra income or another review of your latest book would leave you indifferent. All of this, however, is commanded by my valued colleagues, and that curbs the critic’s tendency towards harsh formulation, even if it were appropriate in terms of the matter. Even for the bad book he finds friendly words, and where they are less friendly, he adds that it is only his personal opinion. Under these circumstances, there may be occasional objections, but no criticism.

Something else applies when the established writer does not have to judge his peers, but debutants. Then even greater benevolence seems appropriate to him, but not here because he was hoping for a response, which the newcomer, who has nothing in influence and power, would be incapable of doing. Rather, the newcomer should be spared because it would be a bad style to step from top to bottom. The very bad debuts are of course not discussed at all because of this bite inhibition, and Chong, on the other hand, points out that it will rob the hapless novice of the learning opportunities.

So are we dealing with an order based on the protection of all by all? Not quite, because there are also the poet princes at the top of the hierarchy, people like Toni Morrison or Philip Roth, and they are cleared to be shot down. They have a large and loyal audience that reads their books even against the vote of critics. Even the most ruthless slippage cannot do any damage here, for which its author should be ashamed, and should the superstar still crave revenge, then that convention would prevent him from refraining from stepping down. Colleague criticism is freest where it is least effective. That is also why it is good that there is also the pure literary critic who does not have to spare the established themselves.


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