Friday, July 30, 2010
The League of Extraordinary Critics
Canadian criticism is in crisis mode right now and, as always, provocateur Zach Wells is at the epi-centre of it all. Andre Alexis wrote a polemical essay entitled The Long Decline for The Walrus Magazine about all the things he sees plaguing Canadian criticism at the moment: personal attacks and collegiate vitriol standing in for “book reviews”, the incompetence of reviewers who rely on subjective opinion rather than critical thought, and he lays the lion share of the blame at critic John Metcalf’s feet for inspiring a self-aggrandizing rhetorical style in younger critics who do not possess the same depth of knowledge as him.
There is a whole lot to chew on in this essay, and I am not sure I agree with everything, but it does articulate many things my colleagues and I have been thinking about for some time.
What is perhaps not surprising is that Zach Wells, having felt stung as he always does in such circumstances, wrote a satirical rejection letter as if Andre Alexis had first submitted the essay to CNQ magazine. He posted this response on the CNQ blog where it has spawned a “casserole of ridiculousness” as Jake Mooney has rightly pronounced on his blog Vox Populism.
It is not so much that Andre Alexis is entirely right but that the Sons of Metcalf, having gathered, are now linking arms and shouting in unison “You’re entirely wrong Mr. Alexis”. You know, like a whole tribe of critics who do not want to listen to anyone but themselves. I had already written in a previous post about the inherent dangers of aesthetic tribalism attaching itself to critical culture in Canada and here we are six months later with this wonderful public squabble with the participants proving Alexis's point and my own.
People can make their own judgments but this needs to be witnessed to be believed.
Posted by Chris Banks at 6:59 AM