Critics v bloggers


Writing in the blogosphere can feel like being a settler in a strange new country: still defining its boundaries, we are eager to make peace treaties but also hungry for new land. Earlier this week I described the ways in which offline and online publishing are working together; after attending the Blogging the Classics debate at the Oxford Literary Festival on Monday, I have a similar and related question. Can academic literary criticism find a place in social media?

The Oxford panel pitted the Guardian's own critic and UCL professorJohn Mullan against bloggers Mark Thwaite of ReadySteadyBook.comand Lynne Hatwell of Dovegreyreader, with John Carey as chairman. Mullan made an incontrovertible case for the value of the professional academic critic as a specialist: a native guide through the jungle of literary theory and history; a mechanic familiar with the engine of fiction; and an eloquent, accessible illuminator of half-realised truths. Hatwell positioned herself on the opposite pole, highlighting a blogger's value as a tiggerish common reader, generous and criticism-averse, an enthusiastic amateur gladly given an unexpected audience. Thwaite put himself somewhere between the two, as an everyman intellectual encouraging both high and lowbrow book talk online.