Saturday, October 12, 2013

David Gorin On Negative Criticism

In the Boston Review, David Gorin in his essay "Negative Review: The Claudius App" goes negative on critical take-downs suggesting they are no more honest or free of careerism than so-called positive reviews. Here is an excerpt:


"To my mind, the notion that negative reviews are a dialectical antidote to the vague praise and careerist back-patting often found in poetry reviews is founded on a mistake. There is no good reason to think that negative reviews are ipso facto any more honest, more intelligent, freer of strategy, instrumentality, or profit-motive than positive reviews. Negative is not the same as critical. The negative reviewer is shrewd enough to moneyball the marketplace: he understands that in an economy rife with praise-inflation, vitriol can code as honesty, and ridicule may seem refreshing because it is so rare. His operation risks devolving into spectacle. The idea that negative reviews should be more “honest” or “refreshing” than positive reviews is symptomatic of the fantasy that there might be a place where the dynamics of economy and careerism are suspended, and the voice of truth can pour forth undiluted by ulterior motives. The main problem with negative reviews is that they’re too similar to positive reviews. The poetry criticism I admire most spends less time praising or blaming—which often amounts to leveraging the reviewer’s cultural capital and verbal virtuosity to muscle readers into assimilating that reviewer’s taste—and more time describing and contextualizing with intelligence and gusto. Of course, no reviewer could ever remove his taste or politics from his descriptions; the very choice of an object for attention is a function of such things. But I think we’d all learn a lot more about what’s happening in poetry if reviewers leaned less heavily on overt statements of aesthetic judgment, positive or negative, and more on close analysis."

- David Gorin, "Negative Review: The Claudius App"

1 comment:

  1. Chris, you'll know I'm one of the first to heartily agree that "we’d all learn a lot more about what’s happening in poetry if reviewers leaned less heavily on overt statements of aesthetic judgment, positive or negative, and more on close analysis;" however, I'd like to complicate matters somewhat by remarking that just such close analysis can be combined with invective and vitriol to constructive effect, e.g., Lessing's relentless, withering attack on French Neoclassicism helped free German-language literary culture from its French tutelage and set the stage for Sturm und Drang and Early German Romanticism. Arguably, the stakes were higher in Lessing's context and literary life more lively, still.

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