Authors and the Role of Critics Discussed at Sharjah International Book Fair
Friendship, friction and flexing muscles
A panel at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) told the audience that critics can either add to the creative process or misuse their status for their own gains. Speaking at the session were Syrian novelist Dr. Shahla Ujayli, Dr. Rasoul Mohammad Rasoul, a member of the General Union of Writers in Iraq, and Fatheya Al-Nimr, an Emirati author and graduate of philosophy.
Rasoul, a specialist on German philosophy, said critics often play a vital and positive role in the literature they review: “The author presents a meaning and a message when he writes and the critic’s job is to read and evaluate the text. They may certainly disagree, but they are all contributing to the same art.
“The critics I’m talking about here are serious about their work, they are qualified to express an opinion. When a journalist, for example, critiques a book he cannot review it properly. He doesn’t have the physical space in his publication to provide well-rounded analysis. That is why, with the greatest respect to serious journalists, their criticism is not valid – they may not even finish reading the book, knowing that they cannot add real value.”
Shahla, who teaches Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Aleppo, believes critics must have deeper qualities than assessing text. “Between a writer and a critic there is bound to be times of friction but in equal measures, there are friendships and relationships. Criticism is not a case of being able to read text, it is a question of recognizing life, philosophy, culture, history and so on. You should not only describe the literature, you must talk about the authors as people and understand their values. Writing is liquid and fragile. It needs to be appreciated in a more holistic way. Unfortunately, many writers are becoming more and more commercialised and that liquidity and fragility comes under theat. Fear is dictating a writer’s work. There is enormous pressure and tighter deadlines mean they feel they have an expiry date. Unless they fulfil their commercial obligations, they will simply disappear.”
Fatheya Al Nimr: “A critic is someone who needs to know his craft. He should know how to form characters and develop plots. If he doesn’t, it’s like being a driving instructor when you have never driven a car.
“However, that does not mean having the ability to criticise makes a good critic. We still see a number of reviewers who have the knowledge, the qualifications and the right language to evaluate a book in a responsible, authoritative way. Instead, they abuse their expertise to flex their academic muscles in order to appear as a master of the arts themselves.”