Monday, August 4, 2008

Meditation on a subject of...

(William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet ; ACT II; SCENE II.)
Not being prolific reader – at least not of blogs – I've been pointed toward a debate on several of them. It all started when aidan at The Dribble of Ink posted a rather unflattering view of the "The Ten Thousand" by Paul Kearney (you can read ours here) and admitted not to have read the entire book. Author objected quite strongly since adian had skipped in his opinion the best part of the book, and claimed that such partial (my words) reading cannot serve as a foundation upon which a work can be reviewed. In ensuing (IMHO quite cordial) debate numerous participants stated some quite strong opinions one way or another, but basically the debate raised an important question:

Can bloggers – this creature with million voices and opinions – come to an agreement as to form and content of a mode of expression (in this case a review) and, in my opinion, more importantly ...SHOULD THEY?

From the beginning blogs have been praised and condemned at the same time. Critics claimed that they serve as nothing but soap boxes (or in some cases pulpits) from which kooks indulge their need for verbal exhibitionism and self-gratification, and so often cause important, even volatile problems to "fizz" away because "real" people didn't take them seriously any more. On the other hand the partisans viewed them as the most democratic form of expression. Everybody could now voice an opinion, on whatever subject they wanted, however they wished. And if problems "fizz" away, there is no blame on the bloggers but on those that cannot use this (over)abundance of information and opinions.

Now, I think that all of us agree that both sides have a point. God only knows that there are a lot of kooks out there :), that's why we stick to our neck of the wood. To our community connected with common interest, in this case SF & F & H (not necessarily in that order). Some of us are active, if not with our blogs than with comments, other just lurkers or occasional visitors. But if we/you wouldn't think that we have something to give, that little piece of that is unique only to us, and that we have the right (or even responsibility) to do it, then you wouldn't be reading this post.

And thinking about the situation described above, I find myself again in similarly ambivalent situation. Some comments to the abovementioned debate, especially those by Robert Walker, claim that this uniqueness should be (my words) harnessed. That an agreement, a convention, a standard should be agreed upon among the bloggers, which would set the basic guidelines for a specific mode of expression:
"What I am suggesting, though, is that following a “convention” like: We call a “review” a piece about a book we read in its entirety, and we call it something else when we didn’t finish the book, can be a good thing for everyone involved. That is the only “standard” I was suggesting. Why? Because I think that there is absolutely no freedom lost (no censoring going on, self- or otherwise), and it also allows for authors to feel that they have been treated fairly. I ask, what’s wrong with that? Again, not down some imaginary slippery slope, but simply on this one concrete issue."[here]
"Thus, maybe it *would* be a good time for the blog-reviewers themselves to set some standards. And no, there really isn’t anything wrong with that, because what that allows is progress based on common vocabulary. That’s a hallmark of any important issue/discussion. And I think that one of those standards should be that if you don’t finish a book, by all means, talk about it, say why, describe your shopping list…just don’t call it a “review.” Call it a “not-review” like you were going to. Fine! Great! Something new! That’s one of the great things about the freedom of the internet.
By setting this kind of standard, I think that you can free yourself from feeling any guilt, or worry, about writing whatever you want. Just call it what it is. It’s actually kind of a simple solution. A lot simpler than trying to re-define what a review is, which is a pretty slippery slope. One I don’t think needs to be taken. Gotta pick your battles in life."[here]
Such a sensible, simple request isn't it? Who in their right mind would dare think otherwise. Not me. Mr. Walker definitely has a point (even if I find his tone in the second paragraph of the last quote a bit scary) far be it from me to deny. Go and read some of the work we published on this blog of ours. I read the parts written by ThRiNiDiR and Trin, even the one written by MadWand. Four of us know each other. We may not be the best friends in the world, but we belong to a single cultural circle, we constantly share information and we managed to reach some kind of agreement how a certain "form" (news, review…) should look like. And still it is obvious that four completely different people are at work. And going a step further, one could also go as far as to say that such a convention, standard would help writers create better, more readable books…

But… (not very original I know)

After you finish with this, go and read some of my past reviews.

Carping SOB, aren’t I?

You see, when I describe the book I do it as if the visitor of the blog had already read it. Usually only hinting at the good points, but trying to thoroughly substantiate those in my opinion faulty. Do I, with such writing also misuse the word review? Must I call it musing or somesuch? It is obvious that my writing can be misinterpreted (look at comments here), so must every publication of mine from now on include an apology? Will I from now on be considered "unprofessional"? Should I be ignored? Spammed in comment section?

Well, I refuse to brood on such things!

It is true, symphony can only be created with harmony. And this is where the path that Mr. Walker wants us to follow leads – to a harmonious, respectable, safe and predicable place. There is no doubt in my mind that some among you yearn for such a place, where your words, your work will become respected, quoted and this labour of love finally accepted and rewarded. And yes, I wish for same. But I refuse to leave the beautiful cacophony (never anarchy) and freedom that blogginng provides. I intend to create my one tune, even if a bit fussy, and entwine it with those others create, and if the ultimate judges – the readers/visitors – decide that I am at fault they're free to say so as well, in each and every instance, and so become the note in this tune of mine. And if they decide that my work is to be rewarded and respected, so much the better.

So, reasonable as it may sound I refuse the idea of even miniscule kind of convention or standard to be set beyond the domain of every individual blog. Are we again to be exposed to the tyranny of majority!? No! Each blog and each blogger should (miss)use whatever terminology he/she decides upon and follow the standards and morality of his/hers own choice. If doing so make us look foolish or illiterate so be it. Leave a comment and tell us so, perhaps you'll fare better.


Robert Walker said...

Howdy, Blindman. I'm kind of curious as to what you found "scary" about the "tone" you referred to in that one section... I can't fathom what could be inferred as "scary" about anything I've said...

Boo! (Now that's scary.)

BlindMan said...

What is scary is (at least to me) is your almost guru like selfrighteousness and patronizing:
"There are some things you can't win against. But do as I say and you will know no fear, no worry. It's quite simple, you just have to..."

Robert Walker said...

Hmm.... Sometimes the "blogosphere" can seem (and especially feel like) some kind of theater of the absurd.

The idea that anything I've said is "selfrighteous" is kind of hilarious (to me). If anything, your reaction to my suggestions says a great deal about you, young butterfly. (Couldn't help myself. It was a silver platter!) (And said in good fun.)

But, since you decided to make such a judgement based on statements taken out of context, allow me to put my words back into context.

I wrote:

"By setting this kind of standard, I think that you can free yourself from feeling any guilt, or worry, about writing whatever you want." direct response to something Aidan wrote in the post I was commenting on at the time:

"I struggled with the idea of writing a review for The Dragons of Babel. Was I qualified to give one? Was it unfair to Mr. Swanwick’s kindness in sending me a free copy of the novel? Was it fair to my readers? In the end, I decided not to write that review, and I’ve regretted it ever since."

and this, regarding "The Ten Thousand":

"In fact, I debated with myself for quite some time whether I even would write the review, knowing that the situation was a bit of an ethical dilemma."

Anyone can go back and read the post/thread that came from and see for themselves. Seen in context, I think it's clear that I, grumpy old patronizing Robert, was actually making an honest suggestion to Aidan from the perspective of an author in the spirit of finding a solution to the dilemma (brought up by Aidan, a reviewer) which could be mutually acceptable, and even beneficial, to both authors and reviewers.

The truth is that I'm actually not the bad guy in this little drama Blindman is setting up.

I sincerely appreciate that (in general) Blindman treated my statements fairly, but I did suspect there was some "straw man" action going on when he (imo, inexplicably) referred to something I said as "scary."

[From Wikipedia: A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.[1] To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw man argument" is to describe a position that superficially resembles an opponent's actual view but is easier to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent (for example, deliberately overstating the opponent's position).]

Not trying to set up an argument here (heyzeus knows there are too many of those around already), but simply trying to clear up some (what I feel to be) misleading statements.

No hard feelings from my end, Blindman.

BlindMan said...

Mr. Walker, I think that everybody that had read the entire discussion (as did I and hopefully others through the links provided) understands the circumstances in which your words were written. I dare say we also understand what you tried to say, whether we agree with you or not.
I've quoted (parts of) your comments because I think they represent one of the most forceful sides in a debate, and tried to show that even if I find your suggestion quite reasonable on the one hand, I must on the other decline it, basically because of a personal principle.

But that does not mean that I do not find the tone of your words in said paragraph scary for before mentioned reasons.

edit: I've spent some time with a dictionary (not being a native speaker) and found a better word than scary for my impression of said paragraph: overbearing

[1. domineering; dictatorial; haughtily or rudely arrogant. (@]

So now I'm thinking of changing the post suitably.

Although I realise you've meant it as a joke you are correct. It is quite possible that such a reaction tells more of me than it does of you. I dislike such a tone very much no matter where I run into it or who uses it, and must therefore disagree. This is not a matter of setting up straw men – some kind of artificial, overblown fears – but a very serious matter that shows a certain frame of mind I personally find very dangerous, but admittedly has nothing to do with the current debate (and was therefore put in brackets).

I'd also like to end with "no hard feelings" as well, but I'd be lying. I feel quite strongly about such things, so I'll end with: nothing personal, Mr. Walker.

Robert Walker said...

Okay, well, in that case, it's clear that you ultimately misunderstand me, what I've said, and where I'm coming from. As such, there's no reason to continue this back and forth. Have a good one.

Barbara Martin said...

Just write your reviews the way you want to write them. I wouldn't concern worry too much about what the author says. They should be grateful you wrote a review on their book, whether you liked it or not, whether you read all of it or not.

Pete said...

Remember the rights of the reader state that you can put a book down at any time. If you choose not to finish reading something then it is perfectly ok for you to write a review of it. Maybe you should mention that you didn't finish it and why, but I think a sensible review can still be written. It can also be interesting to read why someone wasn't able to finish a particular book.
After all reviews are just an individuals opinion on what they have been reading.


blogger templates 3 columns | Make Money Online