Monday, November 16, 2009

On Blogging Responsibility and Direct Engagement

(A special evening of poetry from Trower, Haley, Neff last Saturday. The recorded sound quality is excellent, but, being technically illiterate, it's beyond me how to link it here. My gal'll get it uploaded when she has the time.)

It started off as an amusing diversion, but now it's become a hilarious act in an Ionesco play. And I probably wouldn't have added to the fun here, but since the disingenuous Lemon Hound
has done her typical drive-by smear without having anything interesting or articulate to say on the topic she laments is getting so much play (though she constantly adds to it, and has nothing to say about friend Chris Banks' initiation of the current exchange with his 2nd or 3rd post of his new blog-- the one supposedly devoted to "positive" reviews of others' poetry), how can a born satirist and tribal regulator resist?

From the bookninja quote (funny how Lemon Hound fails to discuss the topic under consideration -- reviews of an essay about sequestered journalling in Iraq):

"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." (bolding mine).

Well, so much for Chris Banks' lauded "objectivity". The author of this commentary on the MobyLives site has disagreements with Packer's stance. Fair enough. But that in no way compromises his motives, otherwise a Republican should never review a book by a Democrat, a Baptist by a Hindu, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan by a Montreal Canadiens supporter. (More on this two paragraphs down.)

Substance in a review is a funny notion, isn't it? When one, or one in one's own "tribe", is getting praised, there are no problems, no questions even, on the topic of objectivity. When one gets panned, even mildly rebuked in an otherwise positive review (see Donato Mancini's 140 + MA thesis on-line -- I don't have the exact page, nor am I looking it up), a humourless defense is erected at the expense of proportional succinctness and dispassionate appraisal.

I actually read the exchange between Danner and Packer. One could disagree with Packer (I don't have a strong opinion since I didn't read Danner's original journalism, and neither did any of those siding with Danner over Packer in the bookninja comments stream), but I thought Packer's opinions on Danner's fetishism of dead bodies, and connections between micro and macro war issues in Iraq, to be provocative and worthy of discussion. The beef with Packer, though, doesn't seem to be about the substantive issues at all. It descends, predictably, into the "cesspool" (Lemon Hound's word for the review culture in Canada, though what that's got to do with the price of Oil in Guatemala is beyond me) of Packer's motives for his disagreements with Danner. What, then, should be done about critical guidelines, in either the New York Times reviews, or the reviews by those covering obscure poetry books in Canada? Should a multicultural consortium of bureaucrats convene to determine, through intrusive biographical research, the histories of any and all correspondence between reviewer and author? And, if undertaken, what points systems should be assigned therefrom? Top of the pile if the two have never heard of each other? (I'll leave aside the rarity of this eventuality.) Demerits if the two have had tea, but have refrained (so far) from getting horizontal? Automatic ejection if the two have had an exchange wherein one gave a review slightly disparaging of an author who wrote 60% of his poems in traditional sonnet form, while the reviewer (in her artistic hat) wrote poems of Whitmanesque shagginess? Packer and Danner had had disagreements on the justification and procedure of the Iraq war. But their personal relations were cordial. Call the conspiracy rent-a-columnists!

"The comment stream here, well, I think it speaks for itself." (Lemon Hound)

Ah, the old damnation by innuendo tactic. "I think we all know what's up around here, pardner. The jig's up." To call this a logical fallacy would be to insult the notion of logic as at least a surface procedure. Yeah, I think the comment stream speaks volumes, too. Lucky it's still on display. Banks embarasses himself for the umpteenth time with another faulty assumption, demands (HA HA!) answers, though he's not a customer of the journals under his silly finger-pointing, and ignores the topic of the original post.

But wait. In the comment stream of LH's blog piece, we also have this nugget by Banks: "No one thinks any of these guys have any credibilty whatsoever. No one." Aw, it's touching to be given such power. I especially like the added "No one". The need to defend their coterie -- of whom, exactly? All poets? Some of the poets I've given positive reviews to, even some for whom I've given mixed reviews, have thanked me -- not that that matters greatly, but it kind of puts a kibosh on the hilarious bunker mentality/us-against-them silly dichotomies of .... an imagined tribe?

But Banks isn't finished. "What can they do to stop you? The answer is nothing and they know it. Hence the use of ad hominem attacks and defamation." Now this is a howler so rich it more than bemuses. It boggles. It keeps on giving, like a throwaway taunt from a kid who just thinks he's had his toy taken away. Hey, Banks, if "we're" so powerless( the continued passive-aggressive non-use of names, though that's hilariously transparent), why the emotional call for collective persistence in the face of unwarranted attacks? As a concerned plea in order to help lower Chris Banks' blood pressure, I assure him that I don't want to "stop" anybody-- whether or not I like their poetry-- from writing and publishing their own poetry, from applauding the poetry of their friends, and from their friends' applauding of their own poetry. As to the "ad hominem" charge, this is vintage Banks. The only ad hominems I've noted in this exchange is his petulant one-line snipe at my on-line verse, as well as the many other "softer", already-refuted character assassinations based on fantasy motivations. Go back and look at the record, Cold Panes. Anyone can see it. I harshly criticized your two books of poetry. Nowhere do I attack your person. I attack your collective assumptions. I was pissed off by your speaking for me on the subjects of love and loneliness. I attacked your boring conversational lines, your humourless tone, your spiritual self-abasement dressed up as a virtue in your poems. With many poets, the authorial "I' is ambiguous, someone else, and /or shifting. But I would be shocked to be informed that the first-person in your poems wasn't you. And I think it would be disingenuous to assert so. (But, then, like, I'm just trying to get to the author's intentions, man.) Therefore, to comment on attitudes in the poems (necessary in a subjective approach such as yours) is appropriate, In fact, it would be a cowardly puff, a bland blurb, to do otherwise. Would you object to another reviewer detailing the nature of that "I" if he or she praised the attitudes? After all, that's just as valid if lyric power can be linked to self-abasement (for example). It ennobles it. It washes it in sympathy where none, otherwise, would be possible. I've lauded many down-and-out spiritual seekers, or seekers who realize the gap between their own realization and ultimate enlightenment, but that's because they could singe a powerful metaphor in my memory, or could capture a potent image that spoke to their own sad questing. Without linking personal perspective to specific poetic qualities --many of which you and I actually agree on, to go by your own posts -- the qualities of the poems are debased by that missing link no matter what the specific attitude or personal virtue/shortcoming is.

More from the faulty understanding of Lemon Hound (she gathers more incorrect assumptions than Banks):

"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."

Uhh ... excuuuuuuuse me (as Steve Martin would say). The "negative reviewing" canard is all on Banks' thumb-aided scale. He began this tete-a-tete with the high-falutin' call against "snark". But as Zach Wells, in typical sense-making perspective has pointed out in Brenda Schmidt's blog, about 5% of the entirety of his reviewing could be classified as snark. To me, that's astounding. That shows great restraint. Perhaps he's read a few too many clunkers, and has become bored with, and compassionate about, beating a last-place horse. But it's also being compassionate to the general reading public to give your honest opinion on what you consider to be a bad piece of writing, showing, of course, when needed, and under the constraints of time and page-space, the evidence to support the opinion. But the tender-green-shoot crowd believes that a review is for the poet first and foremost. Wrong. It's a conversation-starter to the general audience. When that audience decides (if they do) to pick up the book under review-- a book with a good, bad or indifferent judgement-- then, after reading the first several poems, they'll stop giving thirteen shits about what the reviewer thought. This is as it should be. Every person has his or her own subjective opinion. What a wonderful, diverse world! I argue with friends all the time, bless them. Arguements, disagreements, are only troubling when one side takes it all personally. And can you really call someone a friend (all this is beside the point, but I'm using the bogus negative-positive paradigm of LH) who doesn't have the guts to say to you what they really think? Tact is often welcome, but when an author (TO ME) makes egregious no-nos, so-called tact only serves to downplay the perceived faults, thereby giving an unfortunately wrongly-meant tacit pass or benefit of the doubt rather than honest condemnation.

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

Then quit being hypocritical by jumping in and stirring the pot. One person's cesspool is another person's clear lake.

1 comment:

Zachariah Wells said...

Brian, something that strikes me as a revealing counterpoint to the Danner/Packer debate--which, as you note, was sadly derailed at Bookninja by bilious non-sequiturs--is Terry Eagleton's LRB review of Dawkins' _God Delusion_. Oddly enough, in the chatter following that publication, I didn't hear anyone saying that Eagleton should never have been allowed to review Dawkins' book because of either ideological differences or because of the fact that they've both been profs at the same institution. Not to mention the association of Dawkins' book with Hitchens' _God is Not Great_ and Eagleton's former friendship with Hitch. I did hear a number of people taking issue with Eagleton's rather sloppy review, but they were arguing with _what he said_, not with his right to say it.

And that, fundamentally, is what is simultaneously funny and annoying about the most recent round of They Must Be Stopped: that it has no bearing whatsoever on substantive issues.