Interesting back and forth over on Nigel Beale's blog betwen Nigel and Rónán McDonald, author of The Death of the Critic. The boys are arguing over whether the democracy of the web can ever foster good criticism, or whether "criticism thrives best not in a democracy, but in a meritocracy" (McDonald).
Actually, I don't think that there is that much distance between Nigel and Rónán's positions. McDonald's book is primarily about the demise of the academic critic as public intellectual (but with the best bits in the book being about the rise of the perennially troubled ontological status of Eng. Lit.) and as such makes a nice companion piece to Stefan Collini's Common Reading: Critics, Historians, Publics (both follow John Gross' The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: English Literary Life Since 1800; interestingly, Gross gave Collini's book something of a kicking in last week's TLS).
Blogging obviously wasn't at the front of McDonald's mind when he wrote his book and it has been shoehorned into the wider (mostly facile) "bloggers versus critics" debates a little unfairly. McDonald says, "My fear is that those voices [bloggers with a fresh, critical voice] might get drowned out by the mediocre, the banal, the ad hominem and the bilious." Well, isn't this the reality both online and offline? The banal threatens to drown us all, all of the time! But five years ago only e.g. the TLS and the LRB offered a break from this reality, now This Space, The Existence Machine, Vertigo and countless other blogs (hopefully, ReadySteadyBook too!) offer something of a haven from dreary dominant culture.
The next question is: will the intelligent comment that is undoubtedly offered by some blogs grow into strong, critical commentary? I believe so, yes. And if we look at something like e.g. Dan Green's The Reading Experience we can already see a blog being used to build just such a sustained critique.