The Critical Strategy
Robert Merrett was Professor of English at the University of Alberta.
This volume addresses the current state of literary criticism. Unhappy with the multiplicity of critical methods, Mr. Bouraoui argues that academic criticism, in its concern to avoid subjectivity, conceals the literary works it pretends to analyze. To rectify this, he proposes a dialectic between literature and criticism based on mutual experimentation. Unfortunately, since his assumptions are irrational and his goals diffuse, his proposal is not convincing. He assumes critics should reject literary tradition in order to keep up with the “frenetic rhythms” of modern life and that experimental writing can be understood only by experimental criticism. Hostile to literary continuity, he thinks present writing can exist independently of past literature. Given his disparagement of conventional genres, it is curious that he aims to create a genre for criticism. It is also curious, because of his opposition to authoritarian generalization, that he makes very sweeping statements. He assents, for instance, that critics lack confidence on account of their social irrelevance. He tries to conceal such generalizations under invective. He accuses conventional critics of masturbating with words and of suffering from “verbal constipation”! With similar thoughtlessness, Mr. Bouraoui urges critics to free themselves from jargon and to employ the language of the streets. Without explaining why, he holds that contemporary artists employ this language and that the popular language is genuinely poetic.
Not surprisingly, in relying upon Roland Barthes’ ideas about the reader’s participation in literature, Mr. Bouraoui absorbs jargon like a sponge. Hence, he insists criticism must become “pluridisciplinary” and the critic “polyattentive.” In fact, his writing is replete with shrill and incoherent special pleading. Moreover, his sense of contemporary culture is much narrower than he believes. Setting aside his historical and political prejudices, it is clear that he ignores the technological and economic aspects of culture. Then again, in his attack upon academic critics he completely overlooks their pedagogical responsibility. Interestingly, despite his anti-institutional convictions, he speaks of contemporary culture as if it is a solid institution. While he maintains that the world’s conventional theatres have never been so empty, he claims that avant-garde theatres universally question the nature of drama. Such generalizations, besides being unsupported and insupportable, evidence a major irony: in his attacks on critical convention and egoism, Mr. Bouraoui unintentionally exemplifies his own satire.