Alan Taylor wants newspapers to give more emphasis to role of critics

By Hamish Mackay

December 29, 2011 | 3 min read

Scottish journalist Alan Taylor has a made clarion call for an increased emphasis on the role and status of newspaper critics - especially in a Scotland which could be on the cusp of independence.

Taylor, who is an associate editor of the Sunday Herald and founder of the Scottish Review of Books, made his plea in a column in The Herald yesterday in which he admitted he hadn’t watched any television over Christmas.

Explaining that nothing had tempted him to reach for the remote control, Taylor ventures that ...”television has reached that stage in its evolution which suggest is has as much of a future as the corner shop.”

He points out: “At this grievous hour what is needed is a 21st-century Clive James [The Observer], the supreme critic of TV, to bang the last few rusty nails in the box’s coffin.”

Recalling an era when critics and criticism mattered, Taylor lists a series of “great” critics who ...”were polymorphic, passionate and dispassionate, fearless, and compulsive.

“Though many artists will deny it they need critics as much as the critics need them. The two are as umbilically attached as are the Tories and Labour. Neither could exist without the other.

“What we have seen of late, however, is the downgrading and marginalisation of criticism until it has become anodyne and, in some regards, irrelevant.

“Everyone, so we're constantly told, in the era of the blogosphere, is a critic now. Critics, who suggest otherwise, citing their lifelong dedication to the profession, are howled down like despots who ask of those on whom their lives now depend: ‘What did I ever do to you?’

Taylor claims that this situation is “particularly troubling” in Scotland at this time.

He points out: “With the possibility of independence only a few years hence, we need critics and critical publications as never before, be they in print or online, whose raison d’être is to hold to account our cultural avatars and apparatchiks.

“Where, for instance, can you find insightful, intelligent and extended critiques of Scottish art, music, dance, drama and films...?

“...by the way, I exempt broadsheet newspapers from criticism, for without them we really would be wallowing in a swamp of self-congratulation.”

Taylor spotlights the late Hugh MacDiarmid as “an artist and a critic who realised that in this backslapping, inwardly-inclined, conservative, wet and generally philistine, would-be nation it was important not to swallow hype and promote tripe.

“In lieu of anyone else offering to put himself in the firing line, MacDiarmid volunteered. And much good it did him personally. But he didn't care. True critics don't.

“Occasionally, it may make walking into a West End or New Town soirée uncomfortable but it is a price worth paying.”

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