Blogging About Books

Rohan Maitzen revels in it:

Blogging allows for a wonderfully open-ended kind of criticism: there’s no pressure to account for or include everything, no need to position yourself theoretically or as part of a bookclub-beagle-trpre-existing critical argument. You can do any kind or degree of contextualizing or theorizing that you want, of course (it’s useless to generalize about blogging as a form, since there are no rules or norms), but you can also just look directly at the book in front of you and say what you think about it, show what you observe in it. Everything else you know—all your habits of reading and thinking—will affect what you think and see, of course, but for me there has been something very liberating about writing a post knowing that I’m just writing as myself, for other interested readers, not trying to establish anything definitive but rather to offer what I can to the broad conversation about books that the internet enables.

Maitzen goes on to discusses how her academic training in Victorian literature connects with writing for a broad, public audience:

Just as I was starting to blog in 2007, for instance, Cynthia Ozick wrote a piece in Harper’s on the current state of criticism in which she said:

Academic theorists equipped with advanced degrees, who make up yet another species of limited reviewers, are worthy only of a parenthesis. Their confining ideologies, heavily politicized and rendered in a kind of multi-syllabic pidgin, have for decades marinated literature in dogma. Of these inflated dons and doctors it is futile to speak, since, unlike the hardier customer reviewers, they are destined to vanish like the fog they evoke.

Even though I was restless with the pressure I felt to produce increasingly specialized kinds of criticism, comments like these struck me as depressingly (and insultingly!) mistaken. I began to hope that I could use my blog to show that academic expertise is valuable, and that it can be worn lightly and used to further good conversations about literature, which is really what I see as the fundamental purpose of all criticism. Because negative stereotypes about “politically correct idiots” overrunning “lit departments” are pretty widespread, I also wanted to counteract them in my own small way by showing what really happens in at least one person’s classroom: I blog regularly about my teaching, and I’d be surprised if anyone could conclude from these posts that I have “forgotten the text.”

For more, check Novel Readings, Maitzen’s blog about literature.