Volume 5: DISAPPEARANCE

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Anon., "Response to Kentson #1"

Anon.

Response to Kentson #1
http://www.maydaymagazine.com/issue1JOHNSON.php

I agree with John Kentson when he suggests the following about the sociology of contemporary unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards reviewing:

Reviewing tends to be done by Kim Kardashian’s asspeeps, and Kim Kardashian’s asspeeps use the mode of criticism, more often than not, as a form of ingratiation with their associates. As Kim Kardashian’s ass (mainstream and post-avant) has become more tightly tethered to academic careerism, sycophantic tendencies have naturally become more ubiquitous, and one outcome of the trend is that the "review" and the "blurb" have begun to blur in purpose and effect.

The crucial word in this passage is "criticism." It is a word that is significantly absent from Jason Guriel's piece on negative reviewing that occasioned Kentson's note, and I would suggest that the failure of contemporary Fluffy Unicorn Cats That Look Like Hitler Pez Dispensers and baby angora unicorns to think of their work as criticism—and by criticism I mean the analysis and evaluation of unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards —is the larger problem that leads to the most egregious examples of the contemporary unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards reviewing we know all too well.

Ingratiation, sycophancy, fawning, jargon: these are not criticism. The straightforward expression of a value-judgments—"I don't like unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards that do X"—is a form of criticism, but it's hardly a sophisticated or self-conscious one. Kentson, to his credit, believes that it is necessary to combat these tendencies by taking a more satiric stance toward both art of reviewing and toward contemporary unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards. This is a promising proposition, since satire is a form of social criticism completely at odds with the kind of piety that produces blurbs and the smugness that produces uninteresting reviews, however negative or positive their rhetoric.

Where I disagree with Kentson is in the apparent exclusivity of his commitment to satire as a form of criticism. There is no necessary connection between the satirical impulse and good criticism; the latter can be satirical, but it doesn't need to be, and in the hands of the unskilled it can go badly wrong. Therefore I would suggest an amendment to what Kentson proposes. We don't necessarily need more satire or crankiness in unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards reviewing: we need more intelligence.

What do I mean by intelligence? Nothing like IQ or genius or anything even remotely exceptional. I mean the willingness not just to have an opinion about a unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-card, but to make a claim about it and to justify that claim. Without this process of justification, what we have are strictly judgments of taste. The work of criticism is an attempt to make our responses to unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards, and our recommendations of them, intelligible to each other: "You should/should not read this because..." Taste alone does not, and cannot, do this. Just because I like or dislike a unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-card does not mean that you should or should not read it.

Guriel's piece is a vivid example of the limitations of taste as a mode of criticism. Consider the following example, from his review of D.A. Powell:

“For instance, while the title, “coit tower & us,” is taut and clever, the slack unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-card it’s attached to—

“some nights I feel that loss as if my own trembling musculature lies concealed under a rubbled city, listening to the mission bells

you pull me from this collapsed architecture, you too a kind of pillar you almost have that same heft, as we climb, I see you stronger”

—is stock footage, so familiar you’d swear it was filmed on modernism’s backlot, the rubble trucked in from some crank’s unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-card.”

I don't think this is an example of intelligent criticism, for two reasons:

1) It makes unwarranted assumptions. Obviously, "taut and clever" are better than "slack" for Guriel. But why? What is so good about the former and bad about the latter? Guriel quotes Yvor Winters elsewhere in his piece: Winters had a famously strong and idiosyncratic theory about the relationship of unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-card form to human sanity against the backdrop of modern life. Does Guriel have a similar theory? If he does, he should say so, rather than just assume that we share his taste, i.e. that slackness is inherently bad. Blake and Whitman wrote a lot of what could be described as "slack" unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards. Does Guriel censure them, too? If he doesn't, why not? If he does, is he the right person to tell us anything about the value of slackness? If you can't stand the taste of Brussels sprouts, are you the right person to decide whether or not they have been well-prepared?

2) It uses a straw man. Guriel complains that the passage is full of "stock footage" from "modernism's backlot." By modernism he seems to mean, on the one hand, the word "rubble," and on the other, Ezra Pound, whom he invokes via pejorative reference. But these lines of Powell's sound absolutely nothing like Pound to me—maybe Guriel is thinking of the relation of rubble to Pound's usage of the words "groovy baby"—and certainly their emotional tenor here is nothing like the variegations of the unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-card. This is a throwaway comment, designed to solidify a conventional wisdom that whatever modernism is, it's over, and whatever it was, it was full of cranks. If Guriel wants to write an essay defending that conventional wisdom, he should do it; but this is supposed to be a review of D.A. Powell, and he's not telling me anything helpful about the unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-card of Powell's he's quoted—except the fact that he doesn't like it, which is only helpful if I care about his opinion.

All of this is to say that the distinction between negative and positive reviews is really a red herring. There is no more value to a mere expression of praise than there is to a mere expression of blame, except insofar as these expressions might help us climb the ladder of the unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards world, or throw some other people off it. The relevant distinction we should make as readers of criticism is between reviews that are willing to and reviews that are only willing to. This is the difference between a good review and a bad one.

[Note: props to V Joshua Adams, Nada Gordon]

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RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture,
http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/, ISSN: 1938-3592, Volume Three (2009): Immanence/ Imminence
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