Pocos dudan que los comentarios elogiosos (a veces un par de palabras) que aparecen en las camisas, solapas y portadas de los libros conciernen más a las ventas que a la crítica o al análisis del libro en cuestión. Sin embargo, en un breve ensayo publicado en New Statesman, Ross Wilson se pregunta si esas reseñas laudatorias, publicitarias, impresas en la cubierta de los libros, cuentan como crítica literaria. La respuesta a la pregunta depende, obviamente, de cómo definamos crítica literaria. Si por crítica entendemos los estudios que definen, clasifican, analizan, interpretan y evalúan las obras literarias, entonces esas notas no lo son. Si, por otro lado, crítica es la comunicación pública sobre literatura que describe y evalúa, entonces esos apuntes que acompañan al libro pueden considerarse un ejercicio crítico, pues, con poquísimas palabras, comunican, describen y juzgan la obra en público.
Aquí un fragmento del artículo:
The announcement of the Booker Prize winner (this year on 13 October) is a significant event in the literary world. A panel of judges, headed by a respected literary critic, sifts a list of notable novels from the past year, ultimately crowning one of them Booker Prize winner. But cynics might suspect that the hoopla around the Booker Prize is as much (read: more) to do with publicity than it is to do with literary criticism.
Getting to put “Booker Prize Winner” and, perhaps, a puff from the panel of judges on your dust-jacket is priceless. But can puffing – the practice of lauding a book’s merits in a few words, usually on its jacket blurb – be considered a kind of literary criticism, however cynically regarded it might be?
Initial signs are not encouraging. Even the definition of the “puff” in the Oxford English Dictionary (which of course has its own puff: “the definitive record of the English language”) is implicitly disapproving. The puff is “inflated or unmerited praise or commendation”, “an extravagantly laudatory advertisement or review”, peddled by a “puff purveyor” or “puff merchant” or – surely worst of all – a “PUFF-MASTER GENERAL”. The puff itself doesn’t get good publicity.
As Nicholas Mason has shown in his insightful, informative book Literary Advertising and the Shaping of British Romanticism (there’s a puff for free), when the term “puff” first emerged around the beginning of the 18th century, it referred specifically to “publishers’ attempts to promote their books outside traditional forms of advertising”. As the scornful coinage “PUFF-MASTER GENERAL”, from the satirical 1779 play The Critick Anticipated, suggests, many have failed to be impressed by this way of attempting, well, to impress people.
One way to tarnish the credentials of a literary rival, therefore, is to suggest that his or her literary virtues have been puffed out of all proportion. In its 1848 issue the Western Literary Messenger acidly remarked of the writer, social campaigner, and friend of Edgar Allan Poe, George Lippard, that “the ‘career’ of Geo. Lippard, is an illustration of what well-directed and energetic puffing can do for an author. Without pretensions (or at least, nothing save pretensions) to either style or matter; laughed at by one half the world and pitied by the other; he contrives, by the aid of a few such publications as the Saturday Courier, Flag of Our Union, etc., to foist annually upon the public, some half-dozen volumes of the merest trash and twaddle that ever lumbered the shelves of ‘the Trade’”.
If Lippard is either laughed at or pitied by the whole world, it’s hard to imagine who actually buys and reads his books. In any case, Lippard was unlikely to have told his publicist to mine the Western Literary Messenger for a puff for one of his half-dozen books a year: “George Lippard’s latest book is ‘merest trash and twaddle’ (Western Literary Messenger).”
There are many more examples of scorn for the puff – and not just scorn, either, but the sense that it is genuinely damaging to literary culture. George Orwell, for instance, blamed the “disgusting tripe that is written by blurb-reviewers” for the fact that “the novel is being shouted out of existence”…