Saturday 14 December 2013

Just So We're Clear

When Helen Guri says this:
This brings me to a review I read a while ago, “Rosy-Fingered Yawn,” by Jason Guriel, about Alice Oswald’s work of poetry Memorial. It appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of the PN Review, although I did not notice it until a year later, when a link was posted on what would become a baroquely awful Facebook thread, the kind we Canadian poets seem to love to make, and which some might argue is our true genre of artistic achievement. 
The "baroquely awful" thing that happened was this:
On a recent Facebook thread, a female critic suggested that my review of Alice Oswald’s Memorial was the “poetry world’s version of a Twitter rape threat.” The critic had badly misread and misrepresented my relatively mixed and innocuous review. (For example, I called Oswald’s writing solutions “easy”; the critic decided I had called Oswald “easy.”) Nevertheless, Gillian Jerome—the Chair of CWILA—concurred immediately, and commissioned a blog post from the critic. Eventually, there was pushback on the thread— from no less than Tabatha Southey—and both thread and accusation were promptly deleted. The blog post has yet to appear. But for a few hours there, CWILA was in the business of libel.
Surprised that someone would compare a skeptical poetry review to a "rape threat"? Don't be. Jan Zwicky ushered in that kind of discourse over a year ago, by describing negative reviews as non-consensual sexual encounters, or rape:
Some people write negative reviews because they enjoy feeling hatred; they find it erotically satisfying. That the writing of viciously negative reviews can satisfy sadistic impulses does not surprise me; but it is a weakness of my essay that I failed to discuss such satisfaction as a conscious motive. Is it, in fact, a good moral defence of the practice of negative reviewing? No. In sexual encounters, our culture condones sadistic behaviour only between consenting adults. I see no reason to think that our standards should be different for critics and the critiqued.


Helen Guri said...

Dear Carmine (and Jason, wherever you may be), please calm down. Nobody is being libeled or is at risk of being libeled (unless being accused of libeling someone when you have not in fact done so is itself a form of libel).

The comparison I made on Facebook was between forms of knee-jerk response to women being successful in the public sphere. At no point did I accuse Jason Guriel of threatening to assault anyone.

At the time, Caroline Criado-Perez was receiving Twitter rape threats in response to her successful effort to have Jane Austen put on the British currency. The purpose of the threats was to belittle and intimidate.

I wondered — on Facebook, in a conversation between friends — if the knee-jerk negative review (a genre to which I felt Jason’s review of Alice Oswald belonged, though we may disagree) had a similar effect — to belittle and intimidate women in the field of poetry. Let’s note that for the review to serve that purpose does not require Jason to have set out with that intention, a point I spelled out, in fact, in the same set of comments.

That is the sense in which I meant the comparison. Many people on that thread liked my comment, suggesting that they understood the analogy without any trouble. If you read it otherwise, then it is you who misread me.

Finally, I note that none of this discussion appears in, or especially underpins, the article I wrote. It feels as though you are bringing it up as a distraction from the ideas I have offered in a spirit of helpfulness and progress.

Carmine Starnino said...

I’m actually pretty serene. My reason for bringing up the now-erased Facebook flame war is straightforward. Your essay is generating a lot of traffic, and I think it’s important that new readers, especially those from abroad, be made aware of the unsanitized backstory to your quarrel with Jason. Because, once again, by insinuatingly tying Jason’s “intimidating” review of Memorial to the “dominance of white male viewpoints” and, more shockingly, that “well-established educational tradition between men that involves a woman" (i.e. “a young neophyte to get his rocks off at the bawdy house”) I think the rape accusation is very much there, the ghost in the machine, if you will. You’re just shy about, you know, SAYING it. And frankly, regarding the "helpfulness" of your ideas, the fact that certain CWILA members believe one of the most celebrated poets in the U.K. requires round-the-clock security protection from a three-month-old 1,200-word mixed review is hilarious. But then I don't want to be accused of belittling anybody.

Jen said...

Lemme get this straight. Starnino goes on the record saying young women must be "emboldened" to express their critical opinions publicly. Then, soon as one young woman does so, he belittles her, calls her "shy," and attempts to stifle her participation in the very type of criticism he earlier bemoaned the lack of? With all due respect (ha), what the fuck?

BobDobolina said...

This is one of the stupidest, pettiest online rows I've ever seen, and out of simple self-respect everyone party to it should stop and walk away and never speak of it again.

Ken Babstock said...

Carmine, with all due respect, you really appear to be dancing now. You're capable of far more nuanced and complex thought than this. Helen, so far as I can tell, has done everything and more of what you've otherwise stated explicitly you wished Canadian poets would engage in. Essays in which their opinions and thinking are expressed well. If you continue to throw around the de-contextualized phrase "rape accusation" you're running up very close to deliberate obfuscation and willful "policing" using some of the very (conscious or not) tactics and tendencies pointed to in Helen's essay. Listen, being a straight white male writer like yourself, I can understand the dream of a world in which I might write and publish whatever the hell I want without ever running up against the frictions and resistances of "other" people, but it's just not the historical moment in which we're alive. Won't ever be again. And thank (not God but "other" people) for that! And now also, your use of the Zwicky quote is more than problematic here. For her sentences to be considered in any way empty or useless or untrue or non-sensical, it would have to be the case that NEVER (in recent history) has ANYONE EVER written anything like a review wherein they gave in to their baser human instincts and gave free reign to what can only be (imperfectly) described as anger, vengeance, a will to power, dominance, aggression, and yes, sadistic impulses (which by definition fold into themselves a sense of "taking some pleasure in the act.") So, if you can prove that this HAS NEVER OCCURRED, then Zwicky's thoughts are meaningless and deserve contempt. Otherwise, you'd best step back and have a think. I look forward, way more than here on this location, to a sit-down and discussion with you around this issue. Much like the one you complained of never occurring in Canada between poets. Hope you have a good holiday. Oh and look up Nick Cave's 'Mercy Seat' on Youtube and have a listen. It'll put you in the mood.
Best to you,

Anonymous said...

It was never erased. It's just a convenient narrative to say it has been.

Are we all emboldened now, who are reading this??

Is the idea that we shouldn't try out ideas, even ridiculous ones, anywhere? Not even on our own facebook walls?

Anonymous said...

Vile post Vehicule. Septic grade work.

Jenny Sampirisi said...

Helen offered what amounts to a very strong and careful close reading of the rhetorical situation of Guriel's review. She looked at the audience, context, and purpose of both the text being reviewed and the review itself. She applied that lens to the larger reviewing environment, which you seem to suggest you lead. You've ignored all of that, dug your heels in, and with this post, pretty much proven many of her points to be true. I really can't see what you're getting out of this.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, above, might be wrong. There is no
Trace of the late August original Facebook post.

Anonymous said...

The thread, from August 28/29 has not been removed at all, it's on my Facebook page and is there for all of its rawness, for anyone to see. Frankly I think this level of deflection is embarrassing and counter to fostering any discussion.

Lemon Hound

Anonymous said...

Lemonhound: If it is there, then post a screen shot. I did not see it when I looked. And you had even stated you deleted it.

George Murray said...

The thread isn't erased, but it is hidden. After a certain amount of time, Facebook groups posts from specific ranges of time and shows a representative post from that time with a small link above that reads, "More posts from August 28 to 29" or something like that. You have to click on that link to reveal the non-highlighted posts from those days. I expect those not as web savvy might have missed this. So, no one erased anything.

Sean Dixon - said...

I find it surprising to see continued (whether 'actually pretty serene' or not) outrage over Jan Zwicky's rhetorical exercise from last year, indicating a growing preference for more kindly worded book reviews.

When Lee Siegel expressed a similar preference in a recent issue of the NewYorker, there was no outrage at all, simply an acceptance that this reviewer was growing tired of the takedown.

I really do find myself wondering why Siegel's point of view was accepted with such true (actual) serenity. I don't follow literary criticism very closely, but I really do find myself wondering whether it's because he's a man—citing Updike and Schlesinger, Berryman, Auden, Warhol and Robert Hughes—and not a woman (even if she is also a great Canadian poet, the best, as far as I'm concerned) expressing a personal preference.

Anonymous said...

@Dixon: maybe not because he's a man and she's a woman, but because one cited others and the other stated personal preference.

Side note: The idea that Zwicky is the best Canadian poet is laughable, but hey, that's personal preference for you. Anyone can have an opinion. If you enjoy her writing, more power to you.

Sean Dixon - said...

They both cited personal preference. The rest is noise.