Pledge my allegiance off

At The Literary Salon they make a case for that most obvious and still disputed of points of advice for the literary critic, academic or otherwise – namely, that any consideration for the author should not be a concern to the critic, whose allegiance is, by definition, with the reader alone. I feel myself reminded of German super-critic Marcel Reich Ranicki who set the tone for much of subsequent German literary criticism (he’s still alive, and well, and writing, though), either by provoking endorsements or bitter refusals of his – how do you call it? – critical bravura (too positive), anger (too negative), energy (not precise enough), fighting stand (too war-like), criticism (yeah, that sounds like it)…and obviously it’s pretty easy to become a poster guy for the far right wingnut community just by opening your mouth against Reich-Ranicki. The Australian Adelaide Insitute, basically a far out platform for the Holocaust-denying scum of the earth, as far as it is gathered down under, makes an example when, on its website, it hails Martin Walser, one of Reich-Ranicki’s longterm sparring partners, for “fearlessly confronting”

“[….] Jewish Germans such as self-hating Marcel Reich-Ranicki, the most prominent German hater and self-serving literary critic.”

Walser sparked quite a lot of furor years ago when he complained about the role of the Holocaust in German post-war identity, claiming it was instrumentalized to move Germans into a cliché – which is, of course, a point wingnuts love to make, both here in Germany and abroad. Walser made it clear in addition, at the time and later on, that no human could possibly deny the holocaust had happened, hence his endorsement by the Adelaide Institute seems a little obscure – proof that fanatics, both political and religious, invent their own linguistic logic as they go along in a cloying and, well, “self-serving” way.

The quote above is rolling a bunch of stupid points into one phenomenally stupid tirade. Reich-Ranicki is certainly not a German hater, and the presence he’s built for himself in German/European literary discourse casts the “self-hating” epithet into a moronic twilight. But is he also self-serving? He has always stood in for the authors that were important to him, certainly in his time as head of the literary department of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The move is not a slight bit self-serving, of course – if you want exclusive in-depth reports on the hottest authors that your readers will dig, you need to groom them – thus, servicing the reader may also include servicing the author.

How about academic critics? We are operating under publishing pressures as much as journalists do, only that with us peer pressure is even more of a factor when it influences your selection of authors. Sure, a few authors make the perennialist short list and enter the hall of eternal fame – those few authors that create canons rather than “just” single layers of one. Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Yeats, Beckett, Faulkner, James, and their illustrious likes – they obviously don’t need critics to advertise their works. The rest, the overwhelming rest does – Lovecraft does…need: ruthless, stringently informed criticism on sound theory, rather than the labors of love of countless dedicated followers that situate their criticism at the closest possible tangent to the biographical entity Howard Phillips Lovecraft of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the way it was standard procedure for 2 or 3 generations of Lovecraft scholars. Theory, Theory, Theory, and then some more theory, and substance: there’s a lot to catch up on, like 70 years of theoretical progress that Lovecraft scholarship has by and large flaunted sucessfully. This is the future of Lovecraft scholarship: theoretically informed, scholarly criticism, workable also in academic terms.



  1. You should see this–not your usual pop Lovecraft. Ever thought of featuring the best of or would you prefer not engaging the fan cult-ure?

  2. In this blog, sure…in my work, I find the man’s prose enough of a challenge to engage right now…;-)

  3. Good point. I thought the funniest thing in Gaiman’s first short story collection was the Lovecraft send-up, btw.

  4. Hmmm? Help me out…the only thing I can actually associate with Gaiman is his “Neverwhere” – novel/show. I’m aware he’s somewhere in that wider circle of the English New Weird, but I didn’t realize he drew on L in his prose…one more entry to that mile-long reading list.

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