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Dr. Ronan McDonald Replies

Eyewear is pleased to report that the Internet and Blogosphere continue to bear much interactive fruit. Dr. Ronan McDonald has kindly and thoughtfully replied to an earlier post, questioning his stance, in The Death of the Critic - available on Monday, 8 October. I for one am eager to read it. Here is his reply, sent to me earlier this evening by email:

"Dear Todd,

Thanks very much for your attention to my article. I've had a look at your blog entry and I would say we're much less in disagreement than it might appear. My book The Death of the Critic is not hostile to the blogosphere (though the line you quote from the article on blogging might give that impression). Can I blame the by-line on the article and the exigencies of space? One obvious advantage the internet has over the newspaper is space.

I know there are excellent critics working on the internet and I hope that they get the recognition they deserve. I feel that blogs have unleashed a wave of energy through the criticism of the arts. And I certainly don't endorse the caricature of blogging as amateurish and semi-moronic.

But there are dangers in the blogosphere too. My chief concern is that the talented critics writing therein will end up being swamped out by the mediocre and banal. The open door policy of the web allows in much talent, but also much dross. The small circulation magazines of the modernists had the advantage of also being few in number. I do think that there is something to fear in the volume of comment that the Internet affords. It makes it easier to miss the good stuff. And to point out that some critics have had authority in the past is by no means ot endorse 'tyranny'. It is to say that we need to read the best criticsim, just as we should be reading the best poetry. You may well be right about Pound.

But remember too his conviction that 'Good art weathers the ages because once in so often a man of intelligence commands the mass to adore it.' (Ezra Pound) . (I'm not keen on the words 'mass' and 'command' here - typical Pound - but I cite the quotation as a counterpoint to 'Pound-the-blogger').It's too early to say how the blogosphere will develop but I hope it will provide access for new critical voices, ones that might not otherwise have become established, to gain a wide audience. I hope too that they 'slowly earn credit' with readers, as you predict. I hope that it challenges the corruption of the old media, which so often relies on back-scratching and score-settling. I hope in short that it is meritocratic, rather than simply democratic.Thank you for your considered thoughts and criticism, which I welcome. (Especially compared to the hornet's nest I seem to have inadvertently stirred on the Guardian 'Comment is Free' website! )
Can I conclude by taking an extract from Chapter One of Death of the Critic? It's praising Marjorie Perloff's essay in Grub St and Ivory Tower:

'Perloff ends on an optimistic note, with the hope that the Internet may provide a critical forum for discussion of challenging or innovative poetry, but this too has its problems and dangers, some touched on already. One is quality control. Internet reviewers are not always as accountable as their counterparts in the print media; fact-checking and accuracy are not as audited. This is not to cast a pall over the standards of the many reliable and professional internet magazines and reviews, which are proliferating and growing in profile and prestige all the time. But they represent another danger. The internet provides space for criticism and analysis of niche interests, which because of space limitations, conventional publications do not. But this atomises cultural discussion, to the detriment of the wider public sphere. Those who want to joint the arena for, say, performance poetry or the work of minor film-makers or installation artists may well be drawn to relevant websites, but this will disperse the arenas for debate and evaluation. Non-initiates are unlikely to stumble on the relevant sites which may become, instead, hermetic discussion circles for those already won over to the cause. The danger, again, is that while everybody's interests are catered for, nobody's are challenged or expanded. The sheer size of the internet is, then, part of this problem. In order for there to be a public sphere, an arena for the sharing of ideas and cultural critique, the organs and venues of communication need to be limited. There need to be some voices heard above the din. The number of arenas the internet provides for criticism and reviewing counterpoints the contraction of academic criticism. But dilation, so far as an arena for public discussion is concerned, is also dilution. '

Best regards,

Ronan"
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