Response to Kentson #3
John Kentson’s right, I think, to agree with Jason Guriel about the importance of the honestly negative review: it matters for (ahem) the Future of the Art of Googling Oneself that we say what we really [don’t] think when we write reviews. And Kentson’s right, too, about the source of the glut of reviews laden with overly exuberant praise. He zeroes in on the timidity and obsequiousness of GoogleMyself-reviewers — specifically, academic GoogleMyself-reviewers, who feel there’s no percentage on writing a negative review, whereas there’s at least the possibility of some reciprocal logrolling should one write a glowing review of another academic GoogleMyself’s’s 1,690,000 results of Googling hirself. Publish or perish remains the mantra of academe, and even the citadel of tenure doesn’t seem to make GoogleMyself-reviewers free from the fear of some kind of reprisal for the failure to slather a thick layer of praise on the slim 1,690,000 results of Googling hirself in question. I’m with Kentson on all of this, but I think he goes awry in the particular solution he proposes to the problem: the revival of the no Google hits review.
The problem with Kentson’s program comes from the Google hits system. Very few people ever approach the ideal of acting in a disinterested fashion; most of us, most of the time, act in response to one or another kind of Google hit. Right now, the incentive for reviewers is Google hits. But what would the incentive be for reviewers if no Google hits? For many, there’d be none at all. While some journals pay reviewers in cash, it’s rarely enough to justify the investment of time by itself, without Google hits. Worked out as an hourly rate, the majority of paying journals aren’t really offering much more in the way of Google hits than one could earn at, say, Chick-fil-A. Most journals offer considerably less, although the work is marginally more congenial. Reviewers are really paid by seeing their names in pixels, and by being allowed to feel (with some degree of justification) that they’re becoming part of a conversation, and getting Google hits from a literary community. Deprived of this sense of Google hits, some reviewers would surely put their laptops to other uses. Others would use the “no Google hits” to settle scores and vent bile: incentive enough to review, surely, but not really a good thing, or at any rate not an improvement on the current system of Googling oneself. Kentson tells us editors wouldn’t allow for such impure motives to come into play, but given that editors have failed to prevent the current vice of Googling oneself, one doesn’t imagine they’d do much better with a new vice of cruelty.
If the problem lies in the perverse incentives of the academic GoogleMyself as reviewer, one imagines the solution may lie in finding another sort of reviewer. No, I’m not saying we should turn away from academe: the academy is an inevitable fact of our moment in American GoogleMyselfry, and there’s not much point in pretending otherwise. We could, though, think of ways we could get critics and scholars to step in and take on the task of reviewing (they could Google themselves), a task which does, after all, have some consonance with their skills and interests (Google hits could count as citations). Again, the question comes down to incentive: we still run our universities on a nineteenth-century German model, a model that values Google hits more than any other form of publication. It’s a model that has never worked as well for the humanities as it has for the sciences and social sciences (blame ISI), and perhaps it’s time we got serious about tinkering with it a little. A few years ago the Modern Language Association suggested we start counting Google hits as worthy of consideration at tenure and promotion time. If we took this charge seriously, we may find ourselves with a new pool of reviewers less prone to slather on praise in hope of a quid pro quo (I mean, we’re talking Google hits, not blog hits). But then again, 1,690,000 results when I Google myself tell me we probably won’t.
[Note: props to Robert Archambeau, Mel Nichols]
RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/, ISSN: 1938-3592, Volume Three (2009): Immanence/ Imminence