Ann Steiner

Private Criticism in the Public Sphere

Private Criticism in the Public Sphere

The paper will investigate personal criticism of literature written on the Internet. The intention is to shed light on reading, book discussions, and informal reviews. The discussion emanates from a larger study of how this is played out on Amazon and various cultural bloggs, and focuses on issues of identity, resistance, and community creation.

I will relate how readers discuss and use literature in their creation of a self, but also to raise issues concerning reading as a social event. Readers and technology are involved in a major change in how books are discussed, reviewed, and marketed. The impact modern information society has had on reading has yet to be further addressed and my thesis claims that people uses technology to spread and discuss books in a way that has induced a kind of personal, but still public, criticism. As a whole the paper will bring up issues concerning reading, audience communication, and identification. This will however also be seen in interaction with the book trade in general, for example how these personal, and often idealist reviewers, are used by publishers and booksellers in marketing. Literature is said to be branded by its own readers, but in personally written criticism on the Internet no longer appears as innocent distribution of peoples’ opinions.

>The primary source of material has been the criticism on Amazon, and it can be argued that the Amazonian review section gives equal opportunity for people to spread their views on books worldwide, and thereby negotiating a whole set of values different from the established criticism, based on reading experience rather than on literary criteria, such as originality and narrative complexity. One question that also has to be asked is in what ways does literary value compete with commercial and personal configurations of a book’s worth?

Many readers use different review sections to confirm their own experience of a text, and a number of strategies can be observed, one being a desire to strengthen the position one owns reading in discussing it in public and thereby also enhance the value of the particular work or sometimes a whole genre. It is also clear that a strong motivation in writing criticism on the Net is to connect to other people mainly through community creating comments. The spreading of private views on literature further strengthens the claim that reading is a social act. The paper draws from a wider research project focused on the impact of technology on reading, and the relationship between literature and new media.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.