Bizarrely enough, given where I grew up, my teenage years were spent reading all kinds of stuff that would probably be shelved under the title ‘literary criticism’, ‘hermeneutics’, or ‘apologetics’.
I don’t think that’s going away, but instead what’s changing is that books (and, more importantly the people who make, edit, and write them) are no longer seen as the gatekeepers to culture.
Complaining about the state of literary criticism in 2021 seems somewhat futile. First because literary critics have always been viewed as parasitic or, more damningly, irrelevant. Ever since there has been literature, there have been critics. And, ever since there have been critics, there have been writers, readers, and others accusing them of all manner of sins: jealousy, pettiness, poor reading, ad hominem attacks. In an epigraph to her 2016 book, Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays, American novelist and critic Cynthia Ozick cites eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope, who referred to “those monsters, Criticks!” But the bellyaching is also futile because, after years of being seen, in contemporary discourse, as highbrow irritants, professional critics are well on their way to becoming extinct. As Mark Davis puts it in a 2018 article in the Sydney Review of Books, “Traditional literary gatekeepers now live a kind of half-life; representatives of a zombie culture: the walking dead.”