Sunday, November 01, 2009

The big time

My work received its first published review the other day (not counting summaries of the "recent work in X Studies" variety), in the form of a review of a collection of essays to which I'm a contributor. The review of the collection as a whole is quite good, as well it should be--it's a damn fine book.

My chapter, however, the reviewer hated. He devotes an enormous paragraph to its crimes against right-thinking and right-reading, and declares it to be the collection's "most disturbing" essay.

I wonder if he'd be equally disturbed by a thank-you note?

10 comments:

medieval woman said...

Bastard! Ugh - that sucks...

Let's send him a thank you note with a bomb inside...

Flavia said...

MW: no, no--I'm actually rather pleased to be told that my work is "disturbing" (I've changed the wording slightly to prevent Googling, but that's the sense of it); if ALL the book's reviews say snotty things about my chapter, I'll be blue. . . but to have ruffled one dude's feathers so seriously is perhaps a sign that I'm doing something right.

Or that I'm a megalomaniac.

medieval woman said...

I actually just read the review and I agree with you (forgiveth me). He seems like a little child who's got his panties in a wad because you've *dared* to read this piece in a different way from which it's always been read. He's just being petulant (and, if his prose is to be believed, pompous as hell) and wants to give the troublesome little girl an intellectual spanking. And the reviewer seems like a dilettante - it's not even the century of his specialty!

Keeping going, Lady Miller!

Pantagruelle said...

Without knowing the piece you are talking about or having read the particular review, I agree that getting one old fart's goat and being pegged as "disturbing" is definitely a good sign! That's what good scholarship is meant to do--challenge received ideas--and, besides, it's much more fun to be disturbing than predictable and boring!

Doctor Cleveland said...

I'll confess: I enjoy getting a dyspeptic review from time to time myself. It reminds me that there are stakes to these arguments, and reassures me that I'm not simply replicating the old stories. I have at least one explicitly angry peer review, which I'd like to frame. And you learn how to tell the good-faith critiques, the ones that are tough on your ego but good for your work, from the bad-faith responses that simply don't want to deal with your argument and hope you'll go away.

I'll also admit that I have read the review, which is a classic of the "How dare you ask that question?" genre. I enjoyed most when the reviewer quoted not you, but the primary text you were quoting, to prove how you got it "wrong," even though the plain meaning of the words he was quoting actually supported your claims. For those of you who didn't read it, it was like this:

"While generations of critics have rightly understood Orsino's famous opening words 'If music be the food of love' as a buoyant endorsement of music's unique power for lovers, Flavia Fescue perversely fixates on the 'if' and the subjunctive form 'be,' to make an overly-clever argument that Orsino doubts his own proposition. One has to wonder if Fescue interprets the word 'white' as 'black' and vice versa."

No seriously, it was like that. Not even remotely about Twelfth Night, but that really was the reviewer's basic move.

Trying to explain how that review worked makes me think about the kind of conservative literary critics who are sometimes criticized as "only close reading." But this critic wasn't even close reading; the words of the text did not suffice as evidence for him. Instead, he seems invested in a kind of Talmudic (with apologies to all rabbis) mastery of previous commentary, in which one's reading of the text is constrained by the traditional critical glosses on those texts. It's a vision of scholarship where the footnote trumps the text, and the footnote's reading must never be contradicted.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

"And the award for Most Disturbing Essay goes to ... Flavia!" (((applause)))

Way to go, girl. I knew you had it in you!

Flavia said...

DUDE. Y'all's too kind.

Z said...

PS The reviewer is also wrong in his petulant opening paragraph that dismisses the entire subject of the collection! I mean, literally wrong. Not just "that's your opinion" wrong but factually wrong.

Susan said...

Definitely a thank you note!

WV=wiessess

Renaissance Girl said...

Sounds like you ought to have been more insulted had this particular reviewer praised you. It's like getting the "I hate this class and the terribul teecher, who didn't understand my hard-work papers" course evaulation. I'd celebrate.