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Sunday Salon: Negative Reviews, nasty Responses

I have a piece on negative book reviewing, and the use of invective, in the latest issue of The New Quarterly. In it I suggest that:

"Score-settling, resentment, laziness, schadenfreude, envy, sadism, wrath, gloom, betrayal, hypocrisy—these Dantesque transgressions often take hold and lead critical prose to places that hard fact and solid argument alone simply do not travel. With Dante, we might place critics guilty of these sins into categories…"

There are however circumstances, I argue, where the use of invective and insult, if not edifying, is at least justifiable. Canada’ is one such circumstance:

"Just as good, clean fisticuffs add life and excitement to hockey games, so too do verbal dust-ups season the literary scene. Insults, if the Salon des Refusés experiment is any indication, incite responses which often times contain new vigor, and argument superior to initial criticisms, all of which has the effect of strengthening and popularizing literary debate.

Just as babies die in their cradles when ignored, so too will Canada’s quest for literary excellence if its inhabitants fail to pay attention. If swearing and name calling, however hurtful, is what it takes to encourage this country to give a shit about literature, then bring it on, and let’s hope that those under attack grow a layer of skin or two—and the balls to respond not with picayune behind-the-scenes boycotting or jury rigging, but with bold, visible, large-minded rejoinder."


To wit, via Martin Levin:

While Alain de Botton’s slightly hysterical response to Caleb Crain’s harsh, but not unreasonable, review of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work in The New York Times here, may have been bold and visible, it clearly wasn’t large-minded. Nonetheless, sales will come of it, which I suspect, is partly why the calculatedly puerile retort was sent in the first place, despite de Botton’s naïve(?) claim that he sent his missives to ‘what I thought was a comparatively private arena.’

Perhaps I’m too much the cynic. Incidentally, if you’re interested in the topic of de Botton’s book, you might also want to check out Studs Terkel’s Working.


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One Response to “Sunday Salon: Negative Reviews, nasty Responses”

  1. Frances Says:

    Heard de Botton and Alice Hoffman have scheduled a lunch together where they will critic bash from his Twitter account as hers has been cancelled. Public hissy fits are a little amusing to me. Can’t help but laugh.

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