“There are only opinions,” he [John Carey, emeritus Merton professor of English literature at Oxford University and distinguished literary critic] says, “albeit some more informed than others. The idea of evaulation – what I like is better than what you like and my feelings are more important than yours – is just illogical. You cannot know the state of another person’s consciousness, so you can’t make those judgments. I also got taken to task for apparently suggesting that literature was different – that it responded to the rationality of criticism in a way that no other art form did. But I never said any such thing. I made it clear that my ideas on literature were mine alone, and that I was writing from a personal perspective.”
None of this went uncontested by other academics and one of the first out of the blocks was Justin O’Connor, chair of cultural industries at Leeds University, with a lengthy critique in the journal Critical Quarterly. “There is clearly a hierarchy of the good and not so good in the arts,” he insists, “and it’s established by the critics. People’s everyday experience leads them to make judgments, and together we make collective judgments. Pure relativism is absurd; regardless of whether you like Ian McEwan’s novels, you have to accept that his judgments on literature carry more weight, simply because he is a practitioner, engaging with writing every day.