Analysis is tenderness

On Estonian literary criticism in 2019–2020

Keywords: literary criticism, cultural journalism, modern literature, meta-criticism, reception

The article is focused on literary criticism published in Estonian press from 2019 to 2020. The aim of the article is to capture some general tendencies observed in modern Estonian literary criticism and to highlight certain aspects which have hitherto received less attention. One of such aspects is the underestimation of editor influence on the field of criticism. Another observation reveals that critics often fail to find fruitful angles to analyse such literature where the borderlines between fiction and document as well as between speakerʼs and authorʼs egos get blurred. Yet these are just the features characteristic of modern literature. A proportional increase in essays and socially focused criticism can be observed, where the target is not so much the work at hand as some specific topic inspired thereby. Thus, the work criticized is very likely to become a vehicle of non-literary discussion, especially if it happens to raise, e.g. gender or environmental topics. Critical essays are contrasted by numerous writings where features of a work are pointed out without providing an interpretation or wider context. In many reviews compromised by analytic clichés, sophisticated expressions and scholarly lexis is only used to shroud an essentially shallow analysis. There are not many critics who can give a meaningful understanding of the poetics and style of the work. Writers are often more empathic and congenial critics, but their critical essays tend to manifest more subjectivity without reasonable argumentation, as well as impressions and ambiguity.


Maarja Helena Meriste (b. 1992), MA, editor of the literary magazine Värske Rõhk (Vanemuise 19, 51003 Tartu),