Monday, November 16, 2009

Who is claiming unbiased reviewing?

Here is the original piece from BookNinja:
November 10, 2009

On reviewing

Moby looks at a dust up over a review in which it’s become apparent that teh reviewer’s political agenda and personal disagreement with the reviewed author was driving the substance of the piece. Luckily, Moby turns this from a simple “FIGHT! FIGHT!” piece into a thoughtful bit about the nature of how reviews are, and should be, assigned and executed.
In an age where more and more readers are writing subjective reviews on their blogs, on Amazon and elsewhere, we must be able to look to professional reviewers and expect an objective opinion. That said, all reviews are at some level a matter of taste and preference.  But that doesn’t excuse Packer’s review, which seemed to me to be a review of Danner himself rather than the book Packer was supposed to evaluate.  After reading his piece, I now know more about the man behind the book than I do about the book itself.

The comment stream here is, well, I think it speaks for itself. Apparently in other countries people should care about the biases of reviewers...not in this country where people get the opportunity over and over again to tear apart work they don't like...hilarious.

PS Don't let these guys shift the discussion to the simplistic question of negative reviewing or not. That's a red herring. The issue is not at all about negative or positive reviewing, not at all. In fact I think I'm looking for reviews with a lot more bite than these guys can offer. I have a lot more to say about this, but not just yet. All I can say for now is that the binary of negative positive is a rhetorical trap. It's not the point at all. How convenient it has been to keep the discourse circling in that little rhetorical cesspool.

I reject those simplistic terms and all the defensive posturing that comes with it.


Susan Olding said...

Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this!

Paul said...

Fantastic. This is a real conundrum for me. I will just shut up and listen.

Brenda Schmidt said...

"How convenient it has been to keep the discourse circling in that little rhetorical cesspool."

Are you suggesting that the state of reviewing in Canada is currently governed by a type of protectionism?

Chris Banks said...

"Apparently in other countries people should care about the biases of reviewers...not in this country where people get the opportunity over and over again to tear apart work they don't like...hilarious."

No one thinks any of these guys have any credibility whatsoever. No one. We just need more people to keep pointing this out to them and discussing their antics on blogs like this one, and things will change. What can they do to stop you? The answer is nothing and they know it, hence the use of ad hominem attacks and defamation.

Lemon Hound said...

Oh, I don't know. Apparently I have an inferior mind, faulty logic, and am otherwise inept.

Or is that just how anyone who doesn't buy the package wholesale is described?

As I said, the whole thing is hilarious. Really, Canada is still the village of the small huts.

Shawna Lemay said...

I think you're right about the red herring, LH. Chris - couldn't agree more.

Lemon Hound said...

I think it's complicated to review and I do have a certain amount of understanding for the difficulties involved. Particularly the question of impartiality in such small pond as we have here. But I don't think I am the only one who has been frustrated by the overall thrust of the discourse in and around poetry reviews in particular (not so much other kinds of reviews).

I know I should be more specific, and I will, when I get those thoughts more firmly grounded and organized. The above is a hot little response to recent events.

Protectionism? That's actually an interesting way to think of it. And you may have a point.

Certainly a more measured response is called for. It will come. As well as some discussion about what people would actually like to see in a review. That would be a useful discussion as well.

Mitchell said...

Been lurking for a bit now, & I admit I'm reluctant to enter into this, but that amounts to a kind of (self-)censorship, & some interesting things have arisen in this debate, so...

To be honest, I think that intent is an awfully difficult thing to assess, & I'm not sure that it can be pursued. I think of students who object to a grade with the argument that they *meant* to say x, regardless of whether or not that goal is attained. I'm much more comfortable with the idea of focusing on the text itself & how well (or poorly) the text manages to work.

That said, though, some critics are willing to claim that something is "badly written," without really laying down any precise criteria for what constitutes "bad" writing. I think Cormac McCarthy writes brilliantly well, but I can think of a handful of friends who think his writing is sloppy. I would argue that the criteria are just too loose for that kind of simplistic dismissal.

The reviews that have most impressed me are the ones that are willing to engage with the text *on its own terms* & try to assess how well or poorly the text stands. To be fair, some of the so-called "negative reviewers" (red herring acknowledged) have been able to do that, at times.

The argument has been made that reviewers don't have the time to "waste" on bad (sic) writing; if that's really the case--if they're unable or unwilling to devote as much time to the poetry as it demands--then perhaps they need to take on fewer projects in order to insure that they *can*. If we're cranking out so many reviews that we can't properly engage with the work, perhaps we can't properly write reviews. And that's as much a caution to myself as to anyone else.

Lastly, I'm just tired of the nastiness of all of this. Brings back memories of Tonya Harding & the whole knee-capping business.

Lemon Hound said...

Very tired of the nastiness too. Paul Vermeersch has some goo things to say on his blog regarding this.