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Night Shade Message Boards » General » "Eliticism, Criticism, and Constructive Venting of Opinion" by Vera Nazarian « Previous Next »

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Anna Tambour
Posted on Tuesday, September 21, 2004 - 08:57 pm:   

"Eliticism, Criticism, and Constructive Venting of Opinion" by Vera Nazarian is the top feature on my newly launced site, in the part of the site called "The Virtuous Circle of Medlars". I think this piece would be great included in the curriculum for all would-be critics.
http://annatambour.net/Vera_Nazarian.htm
You might also enjoy a delight of a newcomer's piece: "Why Postmodernists Don't Climb Mountains" by Alistair Rennie. I asked for both of these essays, from people I think have important things to say.
http://annatambour.net/Alistair_Rennie.htm
On my main site, you might be interested in the links. I didn't want my obligatory "author's page" be some paltry bragbook for a why-bother, but rather, to feature works that I find important, intriguing, and a hoot. So the page is called "Anna Tambour and Others" as that is what it is.

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Simon Owens
Posted on Tuesday, September 21, 2004 - 09:28 pm:   

Neat essay. Reminds me of a few flame wars on the Nightshades' message boards.

I think Nick had an article published in The Village Voice called "Why I flame" or something to that extent, that actually argues for the opposite opinion of Vera's essay.

Also, Dave Eggers speaks briefly on harsh criticism, and his reason for no longer playing a part in it, in this interview:

http://www.armchairnews.com/freelance/eggers.html

It's kind of ironic, because he does the exact thing to the person performing the interview that he's preaching against.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 05:35 am:   

Anna, thanks for bringing the Nazarian essay to my attention. I have one historical bone to pick, and that's with her presentation of Shakespeare as "crowd-pleaser." I've heard that view spoken many times, and only within the last two years have I had reason to question it. I'd like to pass that question along.

Critic Lawrence Levine has demonstrated that Americans (he doesn't have much to say about the British) during the latter half of the nineteenth century drew increasingly sharp lines between "popular" and "high" culture, or what Levine calls in the title of his book "Highbrow/Lowbrow." Prior to this drawing of lines, Shakespeare shared the stage in America with dog-and-pony shows, Chinese dancers, blackface minstrelsy, and patriotic balladeers. It was part of a common culture. Most Americans knew their Shakespeare, not as a textual canon of secular Holies-of-Holies, but as a ripping-good night on the town. Even Bowery kids went to Shakespeare performances and thought he was "some pumpkins." Home editions of Shakespeare (bound to be read, not performed, not observed, and certainly not consumed in the company of the unwashed) took hold only after Shakespeare dwindled on the popular American stage.

The elites fled the common culture not only to preserve the sanctity of the text, but also to escape actual, physical threats of violence such as the Astor Place Riot in 1849 (over patriotism, class inequality, and a rivalry between a British and an American Shakespearean actor). Highbrow/lowbrow is not an ahistorical universal, he says, but a product of increasing bourgeois and "mechanic" class-consciousness. Taste, more than anything else, represents a style of consumption; we are what we purchase, or at the least we purchase things that announce what we are ("I dress to express myself"; "Oh, that sofa is SO YOU!"). Let the poor have their cheap dancers and their Jim Crows, the elites said, and we'll keep Shakespeare--the REAL Shakespeare, without Desdemona singing Stephen Foster songs. This despite the absence of evidence to suggest what the REAL Shakespeare was, as received by his audience.

This division, between populism and purity, is still with us, of course. But there is no historical reason to reach back into the 16th and 17th centuries and enforce the highbrow/lowbrow line as we find it today. The point here is that, while there may always have been elites who tried to distinguish themselves from the vulgar, that social arrangement has not always been worked out in the same way, nor has it always included artists we now sacralize, such as Shakespeare. It's hard to imagine a social formation wherein an artist like Shakespeare could simultaneously cater to high, middle, and low tastes, but all evidence, both internal and contextual, seems to point to the fact that he did. Increasing specialization in the cultural-commodity market put an end to that in the nineteenth century. But it has not always been the way it is now.

What does this do to the phenomena Nazarian examines? Well, people will probably still draw lines. After all, the market in cultural commodity is still (and increasingly) specialized, and style of consumption is still a factor in class-consciousness. But maybe if we reject ahistorical anecdotes about Buddy Bard and look at some of the material-social reasons people consume what they consume, we can produce criticism that's a little more useful. Maybe it will help us to realize that the "difference" Nazarian speaks of, the "difference" we all know exists, is a moving target, a construct which has developed within a market economy and in the face of self-conscious class division. So Nazarian says, "You can like shoddy things, poor quality, low-taste, filthy, pathetic, cheap, rancid things" and still be able to tell Joe Best-Seller from Shakespeare. She's right, of course, but I don't think she goes far enough in questioning WHY that difference exists, from whose hands we have received it, and what work it does in our culture. Will this stop any flame wars? Probably not. Will it make people reject what they like? I very much doubt it. I just thought I'd toss a wrench in the soup and see how it cooks down.
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AliceB
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 07:21 am:   

Nick's article can be found here: Why I Flame
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 11:28 am:   

The sad thing, I think, is that my little essay is obviously a tongue-in-cheek homage to Notes From The Underground, with the news hook of how the 'net collapses corporate communications in a more aggressive, less scripted style, but that the only people who get that are the ones far away from net culture. (The article is over four years old, I've fielded dozens of questions and have read hundred of letters about it.) I guess nobody reads the classics anymore.

At any rate, I found it next to impossible to find any point to Vera's essay other than "I project group motivations and mob mentalities onto rhetoric that sounds like the stuff I'm already predisposed to dislike."

I do wonder why she thinks people should be "constructive" in their critiques. Critiques are not usually designed for the writer of the work being critiqued, but for the edification of third-party readers at any rate. I doubt many of the writers here would find post-publication close criticism of their books or stories all that useful anyway, since one can't rush out to the newsstand and reorder the letters on the page, and since there is almost always some diversity of opinion from readers. Why follow the lead of the one that happens to have a bullhorn?
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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 11:40 am:   

And then there's always this:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/037541200X/ref=cm_rev_next/103 -9724299-5407850?%5Fencoding=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=2 83155&customer-reviews.start=21&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER

Apparently, harsh criticism even still gets to the bigger authors, as you'll see when Anne Rice goes on to defend her novel against Amazon customer reviews.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 12:05 pm:   

Anne: "In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals."

Wow. If the ENTIRE development of my career were fueled by ignoring denigration and trivialization, I'd consider a career change. Of course, I don't think she wanted the above comment to be read in that way. It's probably supposed to be read more like "Neener-neener, I'm rich and famous enough to buy up historic properties in New Orleans and watch my real estate drop mysteriously off the tax rolls, and you're just a sad little heckler who doesn't matter."
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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 12:18 pm:   

From "Notes From the Underground"

"I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I
believe my liver is diseased."

ah, I see the connection. I will read this piece of fiction (?) tonight.

Others who wish to do so:

http://eserver.org/fiction/notes-from-underground.txt

Here is the complete text, or at least the first part of it.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 01:10 pm:   

People are already dissecting the Anne Rice thing on Iain Rowan's messageboard:

http://www.nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/43/3202.html?1095849494
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 01:39 pm:   

Nick, I don't think Nazarian was saying what you attribute to her, or not only that. The beginning of the essay does seem to equate criticism with bloodsport, and those "third-party" observers of yours with bloodthirsty animals, but she goes on from there. It's WHERE she goes that troubles me. You say you can't find a point, but I disagree; you just have to hunt for it in fragments. Thus:

"I no longer feel okay to put down anyone. Not even when they are terribly wrong according to my worldview."

and...

"[N]one of us are elitist, and yet at the same time we are all elitists. The whole world is elitist and it is a good and a bad thing."

and..

"Besides, so what that some of us many of us are not always as discriminating as we ought to be?"

and finally...

"A more constructive style ranter might also begin by riffing off someone else's faulty opinion, but then ... develop and drive the original discussion into a new direction."

There's a progression here.

We begin with the passive brand of relativism. Right and wrong are confined in the safe box of a "worldview." Why this "worldview" cannot in itself be found right or wrong is one of the questions it is rude to ask these days.

From there, we move on to an assertion of our collective guilt/innocence on a charge ("elitism") which sounds vaguely blameworthy, but is instantly stripped of blame/praise through recourse to a structure rather than personal behavior. If we lived in a world without hierarchies, maybe we wouldn't all be the elitists we are/aren't, but hey, shrug and live with it because "[i]t's how our world works."

Next comes the masterstroke, where, after we have been informed that the tools of criticism are useful, we are told it's okay not to use them, even though we "ought to." Discrimination is optional, but it should be employed? Then how is it ethically optional?

And finally, we are told that constructive ranting takes our conversation in new directions. What directions? And how are these any more valid than the previous directions, which are subjective phantasms of our "worldviews"?

My problem with Nazarian is not with her semi-conclusion that critical discrimination is optional; I happen to agree with that, though for quite different reasons. Nor is it with her notion that elitism is produced within a hierarchical social formation; I agree with that as well, though I would point out that the relation is reciprocal. My problem is that her rhetoric, and the ideas behind it, endlessly forestall conclusions, while making indecision itself a conclusion.

But worst of all is that Nazarian, like so many others, is banging her head against the wall of a state of things she refuses to envision as open to change. She accepts elitism as a fait accompli, and ON ITS OWN TERMS, which invalidates and renders unethical any attempt on her part to violate the dictates of elitism (or the dictates of the elites, for that matter). The elites haven't done this to her; she's done it to herself.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 01:53 pm:   

My problem is that her rhetoric, and the ideas behind it, endlessly forestall conclusions, while making indecision itself a conclusion.


Yeah, but conclusions are what I was looking for when I went hunting for a point.

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 02:23 pm:   

"conclusions are what I was looking for when I went hunting for a point."

How about "We need to keep the conversational ball rolling, and making a final decision about things chills the chatter, and it's elitist--which we all are anyway, but we're really not, and it's the system, and it's okay if we are, or it's not--but anyway, firm and forceful judgments are really just subjective opinions, and they hurt people's feelings, and I promise never to do that anymore, and when I do it again, I promise to give people something else to chatter about because it's all about keeping the conversational ball rolling, and making a final decision about things chills the chatter..."?
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 05:47 pm:   

Geez. How about a little politeness to start. Anna--it's a great idea and a great site.

JeffV
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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 07:37 pm:   

Re: JV

Yes, well designed website. I'll comb through it and comment a little more later.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 08:13 am:   

Actually, I'm quite glad the site exists, and thanks again, Anna, for pointing it out. I had fun reading Alistair Rennie's essay. Disagreed with most of what it had to say, as well as with the way it was said, but that's another matter.

I'm looking forward to changes in the site's content. How often is this going to happen? And will you be featuring views which oppose those you have already featured?
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 08:34 am:   

BTW, anyone who likes Rennie's essay, and would like to see French PoMo philosophers get spanked more frequently, might look up a book called _Fashionable Nonsense_ by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.

Sokal was the physicist who rattled the world of academic theory when he got an article published in the elite journal Social Text. The article, which received praise, was revealed to be a hoax, nothing but an empty pastiche of fashionable jargon.

In _Fashionable Nonsense_, Sokal and Bricmont take (mostly French) theorists and postmodern philosophers to task on their abuse of science. Even if you're neither a theorist nor a scientist, it's worth a peep.
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 03:38 pm:   

First, thanks to all of you who have visited and are discussing the essays. They're meant to open cans of worms. I like to see worms wave their heads, or is it tails?

Neal, you said:
"I'm looking forward to changes in the site's content. How often is this going to happen?...
And will you be featuring views which oppose those you have already featured?"

Seeing that there is indeed, some interest:

1) Depending on the amount of response, I'd like to put out the next 'edition' of the features on 1st November. And if there *really* is interest, then I might be able to do a monthly. As it is, the links were almost impossible for me to stop with, or to stop meddling with now. So they'll be refreshed once a month (a self-disciplinary limitation on myself), and archived in a linked page.

2) The features will also have their own site so that they are never lost.

3) As for opposing points of view, BY ALL MEANS! The more that I can facilitate intelligent discourse, the happier I am. Personally, I love it when my prejudices are undermined, and if the site can stick shovels under others'solid buildings of 'truths', then good.
So if you would like to send me an essay (not a rave) please do. I have one prejudice, however, that I hold dear. I don't warm to gratuitous denigration that provides an emotional end in itself for the writer, and for a type of reader who gets something out of it due to personal frustration. Therefore, the 'wit' of Coulter and Moore leave me cold, as I don't respect their brains. I want your wit and your brains engaged, and would like to support the fuddy-duddy decency of civility. Which doesn't mean that you have to write like you've got a stick up your arse, but that if your true buzz in saying what you want to say is to stick that stick up someone else's, this is not the place.

That said, it would be my pleasure (and privilege) to 'hear' from you!
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 03:45 pm:   

Neal, you wrote:
"In _Fashionable Nonsense_, Sokal and Bricmont take (mostly French) theorists and postmodern philosophers to task on their abuse of science. Even if you're neither a theorist nor a scientist, it's worth a peep."

How true! This is why I linked "A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies", Sokal's own article about the essay he wrote, in the "Fun With Postmodernism" links under Alistair Rennie's essay.

The other link there, "The Postmodernism Generator" contains links in itself that are of interest, and the Generator *is* funny.
http://annatambour.net/Alistair_Rennie.htm
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Anna Tambour
Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 04:53 pm:   

CAN OF WORMS open for stirring:
It is always easier to tear down a house than to build one.

That said, anyone who would like to respond to an essay I sponsor is invited to write one in response. All thoughtful and thoughtfully written pieces will appear in a subsection I think I'll call "Can of Worms", specifically AS responses.
That said, please note my prejudice above (pro- civility), and please limit your response essays to 1,000 words.

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Anna T
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 04:50 am:   

More links to "Irresistibles" have been added, if anyone is interested, and the site will be updated with new links weekly at least, and archived in "More".
For the new links now, see:

http://annatambour.net/More.htm
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Martin
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 04:58 am:   

Anna: Your link to Rich Horton's review is buggered.
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Anna T
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 05:33 am:   

Martin:
Woops! Thank you for telling me. It's unbuggered now.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 07:24 am:   

Anna, thanks for the info, and thanks for devoting time to the site. This should be fun.

On another point, I want to make clear that, despite the rather rude (and reductive) pseudo-summary of Nazarian's "conclusion" I posted above, I am NOT attacking Vera Nazarian as a person. I don't even KNOW Vera Nazarian as a person; all I have to go by is the essay. If my use of her name in my critique of her reasoning seemed to indicate that the woman herself was under attack, please take the present post as a guarantee that SHE is not the subject of my critique.

In fact, as I've already indicated, several points in Nazarian's essay rang true for me, including her timely reminder that we cannot equate a preference for "low" culture to an ignorance of "real" culture. I've believed this for a long time, but I've rarely seen anyone propose doing anything about it.

Thus, my second point of agreement with Nazarian: it is not enough to tear something down (in my case, the normative standards of elite culture), but we must then build something on the rubble. Was it Oliver Goldsmith who called this the difference between Second and Third Stage Thinking? The First-stager thinks uncritically; the Second-stager knows enough to tear down falsehoods and to question common prejudice; but it's the Third-stager who builds upon the ruins.

In one way, that was what I attempted by digging out the logic-drift in Nazarian's essay. The strategies to avoid finality in an argument may arise from civility or egalitarian respect or just plain emotional fatigue, but they too often lead to permanent avoidance of resolution. I see this all the time in academics who privilege collegiality over conflict and consensus over honest dispute. We are told that no one (and no discipline) can issue "the last word" on something, and this is true. But in practice, that sometimes amounts to a stalemate, and debate goes into a perpetual holding pattern, circling round and round the same stale issues, all parties paralyzed and staring toward a missing center.

Far better, as Nazarian herself states, to tear something down definitively, but in a way which grants entry to the next set of issues. That's what I was trying to do. If we can like "bad" books while still being perfectly aware of "good" books, then our standards of "good" and "bad" need revision. More to the point, they need to be looked at from a number of angles, including the historical, the political, and the psychological.

The Historical: Where did our classics and our universal standards of "good" writing come from, how were they made universal, what were the historical alternatives?

The Political: Who decides what is "high" culture and what is low or even dismissable, and for what reasons?

The Psychological: What needs do "bad" books serve, and what needs do "good" books serve?

Anyway, that's enough out of me. I hope I've at least done some justice to Nazarian's desire to move the discussion forward.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 07:28 am:   

Not Oliver Goldsmith. William Golding of _Lord of the Flies_ fame wrote "Thinking as a Hobby." Sorry for the slip. Should have Googled before I posted.
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Anna T
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 02:05 pm:   

Neal,
I don't know about Vera, but I didn't think your responses were attacking Vera as a person, or inappropriate at all, but rather, in the spirit that I would like to help foster, and I particularly enjoyed reading your last post.
As for mistakes in this incredibly unforgiving medium, I apologise already for all of them that I will make. I belong to an intranet where one can edit one's posts. A lifesaver, as "I wish I'd done" is an intrinsic feature of the point and click culture.
As for summing up in the wrong words, I cringed myself at having said that I don't respect the brains of Coulter and Moore. That was wrong. Blaming their brains is unfair to their brains, most of which, like all of ours, is waiting there to be used like some permanently unemployed genius.What I don't respect is their laziness of critical analysis, their pandering to a let's call the other person 'constipated' or 'stupid' or 'fucked'. That's not analysis or even criticism, I don't think. It's pandering to a self-satisfied resistance to think.
So, as to you,I have looked forward to reading all your posts,filled with thoughtfulness, and thank everyone here who has posted.

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Anna T
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 02:35 pm:   

"The Critic as Artist" by Wyatt Mason, Harper's
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1111/is_1838_307/ai_105367413
is one of the links that I added last night amongst the new links (to be updated weekly)in
http://annatambour.net/More.htm

I put it on because of this discussion, as I think you'll find it of interest.


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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 03:33 pm:   

Anna, thanks for the kind words. And this--

"Blaming their brains is unfair to their brains, most of which, like all of ours, is waiting there to be used like some permanently unemployed genius."

--goes into my book of fun things to know and say.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 07:31 pm:   

Everyone,

Apologies for not responding to any of this sooner -- I had not been aware of the discussion until five minutes ago.

Let me give you a brief explanation of what was the intent behind the essay. Part of the reason why it is not really a single directed logical argument but a rolling progression of hillocks in a discoursive landscape -- a succession of "mini-points," if you will -- is that this essay was originally a casual, blathering post in my journal VeraWorld in response to several other bloggers discussing an article in Strange Horizons about genre elitism and Van Helsing, etc -- I forget the details now; they merely served as springboards. Anna Tambour came upon my journal post and was very kind in asking me to expand on the entry and do an essay for her website -- which I did.

My gut reason for writing this is that I wanted to speak out against negative criticism on some level, and on another, as my thoughts rambled on beyond the original motivation, I wanted to make this other point, the one that I find most important out of the hillock landscape series of points:

"... A discriminating critic might say that it is the creation itself that matters, while another critic might say that it is the effect on the audience. But more and more I am beginning to think that it is neither the beauty and perfection of the work nor the intent or effort of the artist, and not even its effect on the audience -- what matters is timing, the exact precise moment.

"It is the moment when the work is experienced by you or me. The same piece may have no effect, or the greatest effect on the same individual, resulting in a product-consumer match made in heaven. The true power lies in the specific experience."

This is what I personally find of most value in the essay as a whole, and this detail -- the value of timing -- supports my original rejection of strictly negative criticism modes.

And so, my point, in short:

There is a time and place for everything, good and bad, high and low, and truly valuable criticism has to be flexible enough to recognize and accommodate this notion.

:-)

Vera
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 08:07 pm:   

Nick Mamatas said:

At any rate, I found it next to impossible to find any point to Vera's essay other than "I project group motivations and mob mentalities onto rhetoric that sounds like the stuff I'm already predisposed to dislike."

Call me a simpleminded idiot creature from the old country, my friend, but I have no idea what you just said in the sentence above. My poor brain hurts merely trying to decipher it. Pain, pain, stabbing needles.... *grin*

Honest, why the cloak of rhetoric? Why not just say "It is unclear, it makes no sense, please rephrase?"

My points that you cannot seem to find -- admittedly rambling, a bit like smallish beads strung on a necklace instead of being a single pendant argument -- were in each case pretty straightforward. I think Neal Stanifer did a good rundown of them (though he did miss the one I thought was of most value, see my earlier post).

I do wonder why she thinks people should be "constructive" in their critiques.

Easy answer -- because being merely destructive offers no new insight.

Critiques are not usually designed for the writer of the work being critiqued, but for the edification of third-party readers at any rate.

Agreed, completely. And edification needs to be ... oops, sorry to use that same term ... "constructive."

The alternative is subtle malice.




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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 08:51 pm:   

Neal Stanifer said (while questioning in part the popular modern -- possibly American -- perception of Shakespeare being a "crowd pleaser" in his day):

It's hard to imagine a social formation wherein an artist like Shakespeare could simultaneously cater to high, middle, and low tastes, but all evidence, both internal and contextual, seems to point to the fact that he did.

Thank you for bringing this up, and I think you make an excellent point that I'd like to touch upon.

First, an aside -- I am a naturalized US Citizen, not an American by birth and early upbringing (FYI, my bio: http://www.veranazarian.com/bio.htm ), so my formative perception has been colored somewhat differently from "popular educated Amerciana."

"Shakespeare did indeed simultaneously please all layers and all tastes," is what I have been taught back in Russia; it is the range that makes his work truly genuis. And since Shakespeare spans all layers and works on all levels, he can indeed be safely labeled a crowd pleaser, a classical artist of the elite, and everything else inbetween. All the labels fit.

It all comes down to sets and labels. Sets, as in mathematical sets that encompass members and sub-sets. Shakespeare's work falls in the full-bodied greater set that includes a grand range from high to low. Labels calling upon members of this greater set are all valid when applied to his body of work.

That Americans seem to have happily latched onto the label of "crowd pleaser," (a label that suggests honest low-brow) merely reflects to me the American tendency in general to embrace that rather "democratic" end of the spectrum. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, but it does explain why this particular perception of Shakespeare's multi-level work is the one that reigns in Americal educated culture. The focus is placed there, a bright spotlight.

In a country of the people, Shakespeare is a bard of the people.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 09:13 pm:   

Vera: "There is a time and place for everything, good and bad, high and low, and truly valuable criticism has to be flexible enough to recognize and accommodate this notion."

This is clearer, but it is still a capitulation to a questionable tradition of bourgeois criticism. Perhaps you mean to capitulate, in which case my critique will prove valueless. But in case you don't, let me offer some points, not necessarily in a coherent order.

Much of what is celebrated as high literature is celebrated as high literature because it has been celebrated as high literature by those whose job it is to celebrate high literature. In the American instance, Boston was the seat of high culture because whatever was high culture was to be found in Boston. And Boston set the canon.

This is all tautological, entropic, even incestuous. Never mind the fact that it is also false. Boston controlled only a part, and at times a ridiculously small part, of the New York - Philadelphia - Boston axis of publishing. But Boston publishers established the canon, so Boston authors became the core of the American Renaissance.

It is still with us, and it is stronger than ever because the long tunnel of tradition contracts the past rather than expanding it. Minor figures fall away from popular memory. Once-celebrated poets and novelists become footnotes in catalogs read only by graduate students; they become curiosities, sideshows, the inhabitants of those cages at the menagerie where children do not shriek with delight, where no crowd gathers. New Yorker George Foster becomes the "blue-footed boobie" to Herman Melville's "bengal tiger."

And so the field is cleared of rubbish, and "great" writers are studied. All the same great writers. And when critics seek to tell us what makes for good literature, they reverse-engineer from what is at hand, from what is "great," from the same writers who survived the purge of the also-rans. The descriptive becomes prescriptive, and then it becomes part of a common pedagogy of aesthetics. Taste is cultivated, is seen as both process and goal, is equated with class mobility. The teaching of literary taste becomes a missonary project of social uplift. And in this way, criteria that came from somewhere, from some time, which were demonstrably historical and localizable, become background radiation, invisible and omnipresent.

When we assert our right to deviate from this pedagogy of taste, we are left explaining that our tastes are "guilty pleasures." We have been infantilized, made to feel naughty about our pleasures.

And this is why I take issue with your point. A time and a place for everything means that everything must stay in its place. This is what I reject.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 09:25 pm:   

Vera: "That Americans seem to have happily latched onto the label of "crowd pleaser," (a label that suggests honest low-brow) merely reflects to me the American tendency in general to embrace that rather "democratic" end of the spectrum."

That's an interesting way to look at it, though not what I had in mind. Many in America have formed a notion that you have to be a wealthy snob to get Shakespeare, so the emphasis on his more plebeian appeal helps to break the ice with "the democracie."

What you learned in Russia would have applied to America prior to the Civil War--Shakespeare was a man for all classes. But as I explained above, that changed here, and now Shakespeare is seen by many as something for over-educated snobs.
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Kage Baker
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 09:54 pm:   

Well, um... I was the child of a postman and a sometime RKO Studios crowd extra/defense plant worker. Our family was fairly poor and working-class, but we adored Shakespeare. Never missed the old MGM Midsummer Night's Dream, when it was shown on TV. My sisters and I all went to the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet when it first opened, and wept our little teenaged eyes out.

Of course, maybe we were abnormal...
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 10:10 pm:   

Honest, why the cloak of rhetoric? Why not just say "It is unclear, it makes no sense, please rephrase?"


It's not a cloak of rhetoric at all, Vera. I actually meant exactly what I said. I saw no point to the essay other than that it was a manifestation of projection: "A defense mechanism in which the individual attributes to other people impulses and traits that s/he her/himself has but cannot accept."

On "constructive": Easy answer -- because being merely destructive offers no new insight.


Why should it? Why should one accept that as the value behind writing polemical or pursuasive essays? Because Vera Nazarian says so?

I can think of a good reason why one should not accept that as a universal value: sometimes entire systems are so utterly broken that there are no "insights" available. Any offered "insight" would just be a stopgap paste of rhetorical tricks, epicycles, and handwaving.

Agreed, completely. And edification needs to be ... oops, sorry to use that same term ... "constructive."

No it doesn't.

The alternative is subtle malice.

Nonsense. Those are hardly the only alternatives and they hardly map exclusively between 'constructive' and 'destructive.' For example, you essay, which is supposed to read as constuctive, is actually an incredibly passive-aggressive series of attacks against blog-essays you don't even have the guts to name in the piece itself. Your characterization of them -- which of course includes my response to Tee Morris's article -- is also warped so incredibly that I'd wonder if you'd even read them all the way through if I hadn't already come to the conclusion that the essay was just an exercise in projection in the first place.












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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 10:23 pm:   

Neal,

What a fascinating elucidation! I admit I was not thinking along the lines of such a "tradition of bourgeois criticism" at all. I am a bit too under-educated in the conventional sense to even be aware of it, or of the Boston "canon." Apparently we are coming to a discussion of literary standards from completely different places. And this is fascinating!

Now... What I know is what I like and dislike, drawing from my own personal standards of high and low, and it is from such rather Platonic notions that I make my current points. I also "know" (only to the best of my personal abilities, of course) what people around me in general seem to like and dislike, making my riffs from that real world popular opinion, gleaned from my own experience. No history here, no complicated burgeois school of criticism to fall back upon for setting my tastes. Just little old me and the people around me. :-) Of course, you might well argue that those people and their belief structures too are coming from the old "canon" and that there's just no escaping it when we talk about literary high-brow and low-brow standards.

Maybe so....

But this is all really fodder for a different discussion -- a discussion to redefine the validity of critical canon. It seems that we were in fact pursuing two somewhat different (and maybe parallel) arguments, and at last I think I see what it is you are focusing on.

However, you say:

And this is why I take issue with your point. A time and a place for everything means that everything must stay in its place. This is what I reject.

Not only is this apples and oranges to my own points, but while it might sound great, it is also a logical fallacy.

"A time and a place for everything" does not at all mean "that everything must stay in its place." Rather, it means that all things have a season. Whether or not they stay in their places has nothing to do with their "appropriateness" or applicability to their place of the moment.

We all know that seasons change, and when they return they are infinitesimally different (blame global warming, among other things? *grin*). Last year's autumn certainly was not the same as this year's.

In fact, all things continue to move from their places, to evolve and change, and each "place" is but an ephemeral marker, a locus point in a sea of relativity.

In that sense I think you and I agree completely.

Goodness, semantics can be a real bitch. :-)

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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 10:57 pm:   

Nick said:

It's not a cloak of rhetoric at all, Vera. I actually meant exactly what I said. I saw no point to the essay other than that it was a manifestation of projection: "A defense mechanism in which the individual attributes to other people impulses and traits that s/he her/himself has but cannot accept."

Ok, thanks for restating. But then this is completely in the Oort Cloud. Sorry, it' not what I said. Trust me on this. I am not projecting anything, not hiding anything, merely expressing my feelings on the futility of negative criticism. Rather clearly, too.

On "constructive": Easy answer -- because being merely destructive offers no new insight.

Why should it? Why should one accept that as the value behind writing polemical or pursuasive essays? Because Vera Nazarian says so?

Because when there is no new useful insight to be gleaned, why bother wasting one's time reading any piece? Most of us have better things to do. And none of this has anything to do with the fact that I as opposed to some other Joe say this. You are on the defensive for no reason at all.

I can think of a good reason why one should not accept that as a universal value: sometimes entire systems are so utterly broken that there are no "insights" available. Any offered "insight" would just be a stopgap paste of rhetorical tricks, epicycles, and handwaving.

Well, in that case when systems are hopeless and beyond repair, why bother dwelling on them at all? Might as well let them be and go on to something that does have some redeeming qualities, instead of pounding them further into dust -- the poor blasted things. Let them die in peace already. There's a good saying in Russian: "Don't touch shit and it won't stink."

I said: Agreed, completely. And edification needs to be ... oops, sorry to use that same term ... "constructive."

No it doesn't.

Don't just naysay. Show me how.

I said: The alternative is subtle malice.

Nonsense. Those are hardly the only alternatives and they hardly map exclusively between 'constructive' and 'destructive.'

Let me think, uhm.... Constuctive implies useful. Insight is useful. Everything else is just a dog saying "Arf! Arf!"

So, either offer new insight or not. What else is there? How about a half-insight? Maybe a semi-insight with a pinch of salt on top? Really, it's just like being pregnant -- you either are or aren't. You either have insight or you don't.

For example, you essay, which is supposed to read as constuctive, is actually an incredibly passive-aggressive series of attacks against blog-essays you don't even have the guts to name in the piece itself.

It is not a matter of guts, Nick, but of common courtesy to my lovely hostess Anna. She wanted me to take out the personal and specific references, and I did.

Want to see the original blog entry? Voila! Look here, I've got your exact names and references lined up (scroll down to see entry for Tuesday 7-20-04):

http://www.sff.net/people/vera.nazarian/jul04.htp

Your characterization of them -- which of course includes my response to Tee Morris's article -- is also warped so incredibly that I'd wonder if you'd even read them all the way through if I hadn't already come to the conclusion that the essay was just an exercise in projection in the first place.

"Warped" is in the astigmatic eye of the beholder. :-)
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Anna T
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 11:11 pm:   

Nick:
There is a misconception that I have caused, and I am sorry for causing it. You have said about Vera's essay,
"... essays you don't even have the guts to name in the piece itself."

I gutsed her, if you think of it that way. I asked that her essay not mention any names, but speak to issues. I wasn't looking for an attack piece against anyone (not that her blog was, anyway). Indeed, I expected that most people who would read this essay would not have read the pieces to which you refer, including yours. I haven't, myself.

There are many examples of commentators, criticisms, and critics that came to mind when I read her piece, which was why I asked her to write the essay in the first place. I specifically asked for it to not deal with names because they distract, often stealing the limelight, seeming to be the point, when they are only examples.

This was to be an essay, not a blog posting. Good essays, I think, read better not mentioning the ephemeral specific, or being some name-calling or name-dropping in-piece, and therefore there was no question of guts, or pussyfooting.

Before you were born there were people who were doing the very things she is talking about in the essay, which is exactly why I put underneath her essay, the two pieces I did. The short story "The Heather Lintie", actually hit me when I read it as being quite contemporary.

So blame me if you want to. But don't blame Vera.







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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 12:38 am:   

Sorry, it' not what I said.

Yes, of course, nobody says "I'm projecting as a defense mehanism" but nonetheless that was what you were doing, and indeed, that is what you are doing, as can be seen by your repeated ironic appeals to your own ignorance, Old Country bumpkinism etc. And you should stop.

Because when there is no new useful insight to be gleaned, why bother wasting one's time reading any piece?

So it is because you say so. I imagine that if you were a medico in the time of bleedings and leeches and someone said "Oh wait, that doesn't work! See, here's proof!" you'd shrug, say "Oh, what should we do then? If you don't have an alternative, we have to keep sticking with what we know!" and then go right back to your work of slowly killing your patients.

Clearing out the deadwood gives room for *multiple* new insights. Saying "Not Y, but Z!" makes room only for Z, which can be as assed an idea as Y was.

"Warped" is in the astigmatic eye of the beholder. :-)


If the beholder is you, yes, as you begin with your conclusion ("People are bullies!") come up with a dubious framework ("People who aren't bullies say X and not Y") and the make your point ("Say X, not Y everyone! There, I've eliminated all the bullies!")

However, words actually mean something. For example when you say "Poor Tee Morris. He really did make some valid points" you are making a factual claim. A claim with no evidence. Morris had zero valid points, no more than a broken clock actually tells the time correctly twice the day. It's epiphenomenal. It seems to. But it does not.

Then about me, you lie: "There are two types, it seems, the negative and the constructive. And example of the former is Nick Mamatas, someone whose opinions, flair, and mind I admire very much, but whose commentary seems to be the direct result of someone else's opinion -- a ricochet of sorts -- and then he goes off to present his own brilliant, devastating opinion (usually backed with deadly, accurate facts and astute observations). However, there he stops."

Wrong. Obviously, transparently, wrong. In fact, I gave enough constructive criticism as to what Morris's essay could have been that Jay Lake went out and attempted to follow my lead by doing what I suggested one do: com,talk to authors who write tie-in and other material, and talk to bookstores about the sales of tie-in material. The link to my essay is above; anyone can read it for the points I made on how an exploration of elitism actually can explore elitism rather than just pretending to, which is what Morris did.

So, given that I've engaged constructively and you've claimed that I did not, I'm left with two possible conclusions:

1. Either you did not read my blog-essay.
2. You did and ignored that which did not fit your internal framework of what is going on, and instead replaced with your own projections.

Since you clearly did read it, 2 is it.

Anna: Good essays, I think, read better not mentioning the ephemeral specific, or being some name-calling or name-dropping in-piece, and therefore there was no question of guts, or pussyfooting.

Your definition of good essay runs counter to every thing I've ever heard about good essays or read in good essays. It further runs counter to every thing any editor ever told me about a good essay while editing one of mine. It also goes against all feedback I've ever received from the readers of my essays (I don't mean blogs, I mean the essays I write for publication and money).

And in fact Vera's piece is not a good essay and you did it no service by Bowdlerizing it. A good essay, especially one that attempts to persuade, must have examples, analogies, reflections on the actual, etc. You can't just discuss some phantasm phenomenon and pretend that the world works the way you hint that it does. It simply and always leads to deck-stacking.

Further, endless timeless good essays do in fact refer to the "ephemeral specific." Both personal essays and critical ones, including the essays that are the foundation of most modern social sciences, use specific example. Few people care about pin production in Scotland in the 1770s today, but many people care about the reasoning of Adam Smith, even as the neo- to his classical economics have passed him by.

In fact, the absense of specifics that actually connect with the argument is much the same problem I had with Morris's essay. Some people may have read my response as a "pro-elitism" piece or some such nonsense, but it was not. I was annoyed by Morris's essay as a working essayist.

Morris's essay, much like Vera's, rocketed from misapprehended point to misapprehended point, gleefully knocked over strawmen and stacked the deck at every opportunity, and did so in the service of some psychological defense. Morris simply confused any difference of opinion with elitism. Robbing all others of their views by rendering them illegitimate (frex, only "elitists" don't like Van Helsing, so Van Helsing must be good) is a bad faith argument.

Vera makes bad faith arguments as well. For someone committed to not saying negative things about anyone else's views, she sure was quick just now with the "Everything else is just a dog saying "Arf! Arf!"

So blame me if you want to. But don't blame Vera.


There is more than enough to go around. You never should have asked her to leave out specific examples, and she never should have agreed.






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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 12:42 am:   

Here is the accurate Lake link: Click me.
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CA McGee
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 01:54 am:   

She wanted me to take out the personal and specific references, and I did.

This, I think, was a mistake. Part of the overall effect was to make it seem as though the essay was too good to mention the people whose opinions it was rebutting. When I read the piece, I thought it might have been subtitled "Nick Mamatas, this means you," which made it seem very passive/aggressive. It needn't have been directed at Nick, but it should be directed at something, and not just sprayed into the ether, hopefully striking something useful.

Good essays, I think, read better not mentioning the ephemeral specific

Isn't being specific precisely what keeps something from being ephemeral? Otherwise, invoking some "internet gadfly" creates a vague straw man who exists only to take a rhetorical beating. If I read a book that I loathe and am to write a review of it, it's not enough to say "well, most people haven't read the book so they won't know what I'm talking about -- I should just talk about books in general." If you want to use that book and its flaws to illustrate something distressing about overall trends in literature, all the better, but without concrete examples it's toothless.

edification needs to be ... "constructive."

An argument that is directed in defense need not be explicitly constructive in order to be necessary. Sometimes, it is sufficient to cease the act of destruction. If I come home and find that someone has planted a pile of shit in my living room, it's enough that I remove it -- I don't need to plant a rosebush in its place; politely stepping over it certainly isn't going to satisfy.

Tee Morris' article was so vehemently attacked because he was taking a proverbial dump in the living room of discourse about SF/F/H. The fact that it generated the commentary that it did should be enough to demonstrate that it was squeezed out in a sufficiently prominent location, and to let it sit there, stinking and attracting flies, would be to validate its existence.

If the sole point of Vera essay's was to say "don't be mean," then I think it should have been developed in support of that. Instead, statements like this:

the works of others, whether they are generally "good" or "bad" have all been created in one way or another, and no one except their respective creators can really know what effort and ability level went into their creation... A discriminating critic might say that it is the creation itself that matters, while another critic might say that it is the effect on the audience. But more and more I am beginning to think that it is neither the beauty and perfection of the work nor the intent or effort of the artist, and not even its effect on the audience what matters is timing, the exact precise moment.

just seem to hope for an uncritical world where everything must be accorded equal value and nothing should be examined with an eye towards discovering its worth.

The essay concedes that we all have critical facilities but sometimes we don't use them -- perhaps because it's too exhausting. But the problem with Morris and "Van Helsing" was not that he said, "sometimes people enjoy crap and that's OK" but that he was suggesting no one had the right to call crap what it was. It's that sort of indefensible argument that created the stir in the first place, and the cited paragraph above seems to just be perpetuating the very same idea.
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Anna T
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:38 am:   

Nick:
Lovely definition of yours about a good essay, "must have examples, analogies, reflections on the actual, etc."
I agree with you. And whether you like it or not, I feel that Alistair Rennie's essay does fulfill those requirements referring to very specific examples. And I also feel that Vera's fulfills the requirements, because in the subject that she explores, my personal feeling is that the wealth of examples, analogies, and reflections on the actual are supplied by the reader, in the act of reading and reflecting upon the essay itself and the reader's own experience. There has been a great deal of personality-based discussion lately on the subject of critics who seem to enjoy the attack as the reason to criticise, and much of it has lost its way in the specific, becoming pop-psyche analyses of some guy's life. I feel that the subject got lost in the personality preoccupation.
And when I said that I didn't and still don't feel that the "ephemeral specific" enriches an essay, I mean *ephemeral*.
Thus, for example, Rennie spoke of Derrida and others who have made a mark on the world--entirely appropriate, and indeed, necessary.
And if Vera had wanted to speak of anyone of that ilk, I would have thought it great. But the people she referred to in her blog were not in themselves of that ilk,and I still feel would be an unproductive diversion to those readers who are not aware of them. In her blog, they were examples, but a blog is itself, ephemeral, and often extremely personality-based. Besides, these examples are irrelevant to the subject itself in the wider sense.

There are readers, should they find this essay on this obscure personal site, who would think immediately of many analogies--from the restaurant industry to the sciences. And that is the richness of this specific essay to me, and I think, to many other readers. I don't like dogma, and so I think that Vera's essay is a good essay, though it flies in the face of everything you were taught. I kind of like things that fly in the face of everything one was taught. That in itself isn't the end, but the only good part of dogma is the dog.

As for your statement, "It also goes against all feedback I've ever received from the readers of my essays (I don't mean blogs, I mean the essays I write for publication and money)."

It's lovely that you're doing so well. But I don't understand why you are wasting so much time on a bad essay on an obscure page of an author who doesn't get paid as you do to write essays, when the piece doesn't even mention you (and I insist, doesn't *avoid* mentioning you. You are, with respect, hardly canonical), and in the complementary links below, continues not to mention anything about you. You were not an issue, a topic, or, I feel, an appropriate example in this essay.

Life's short. Go satisfy more readers.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:03 am:   

Nick said:

Yes, of course, nobody says "I'm projecting as a defense mehanism" but nonetheless that was what you were doing, and indeed, that is what you are doing, as can be seen by your repeated ironic appeals to your own ignorance, Old Country bumpkinism etc. And you should stop.

You misread, Nick. Okay, maybe it's a bit peculiar to admit, but I honestly feel rather uneducated compared to so many of you posting here. I have a BA in English, but like Venkman from Ghostbusters, I "did not study." People like Catherynne Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, Paul Witcover, etc. -- and very often you, at your best, Nick -- put me to shame and blow me out of the water.

And yes, a measure of irony is there, I admit, but only when elicited by some of your completely off-the wall conclusions. Incidentally, that's when you're not being at your best.

I said: Because when there is no new useful insight to be gleaned, why bother wasting one's time reading any piece?

So it is because you say so. I imagine that if you were a medico in the time of bleedings and leeches and someone said "Oh wait, that doesn't work! See, here's proof!" you'd shrug, say "Oh, what should we do then? If you don't have an alternative, we have to keep sticking with what we know!" and then go right back to your work of slowly killing your patients.

Okay... I think we are now in the Tower of Babel, speaking in tongues. Bananas, anyone?

To use your medico example is silly since it does not accurately serve as a metaphor for the essay situation.

Clearing out the deadwood gives room for *multiple* new insights.

Whereas only a post or two ago you said: sometimes entire systems are so utterly broken that there are no "insights" available. Any offered "insight" would just be a stopgap paste of rhetorical tricks, epicycles, and handwaving.

Backpedaling?

Saying "Not Y, but Z!" makes room only for Z, which can be as assed an idea as Y was.

No one suggested something as unsophisiticated as all that, Nick. It is more like "Not Y, period, anything but Y," with Y being negative criticism and Z being everything else, a possiblity but not a requirement.

I said: "Warped" is in the astigmatic eye of the beholder. :-)

If the beholder is you, yes, as you begin with your conclusion ("People are bullies!") come up with a dubious framework ("People who aren't bullies say X and not Y") and the make your point ("Say X, not Y everyone! There, I've eliminated all the bullies!")

Now, now, don't put inaccurate conclusions into my electronic mouth.

My conclusions are, once again: "Negative criticism is not constructive." and "The effect of works, regardless of quality, on the audience is based on timing, and true criticism should be able to accomodate this notion."

However, words actually mean something.

Glad we can agree on that.

For example when you say "Poor Tee Morris. He really did make some valid points" you are making a factual claim.

No. I am actually stating an informed opinion.

A claim with no evidence. Morris had zero valid points, no more than a broken clock actually tells the time correctly twice the day. It's epiphenomenal. It seems to. But it does not.

In saying the above you make unfair absolute statements that are absurdly easy to refute.

Tee Morris made, among other things, this valid point:

"I myself have experienced such scorn. I've had award-winning authors make mocking faces during my answers to a media question from the audience and one award-winning editor literally speak over her shoulder to me, her back being the only thing I was granted to make full eye contact with, all because of my position on media SF/F/H. The more I watched and listened, and the more I witnessed with my own eyes and ears, the more it was impressed upon me that media fans were deemed as mindless drones not smart enough to read, and not needed by those in the literary circles."

What is there in particular to argue with in this statement? The notion that media fans are looked down upon is based on real world evidence.

There are other examples, none too elegant, and none particularly original, but here is the full piece, and everyone can go look for themselves:

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2004/20040712/elitism.shtml

Then about me, you lie: "There are two types, it seems, the negative and the constructive. And example of the former is Nick Mamatas, someone whose opinions, flair, and mind I admire very much, but whose commentary seems to be the direct result of someone else's opinion -- a ricochet of sorts -- and then he goes off to present his own brilliant, devastating opinion (usually backed with deadly, accurate facts and astute observations). However, there he stops."

Wrong. Obviously, transparently, wrong. In fact, I gave enough constructive criticism as to what Morris's essay could have been that Jay Lake went out and attempted to follow my lead by doing what I suggested one do: com,talk to authors who write tie-in and other material, and talk to bookstores about the sales of tie-in material. The link to my essay is above; anyone can read it for the points I made on how an exploration of elitism actually can explore elitism rather than just pretending to, which is what Morris did.


Nick, you gave vitriol-laden criticism. The constructive and valid points were engorged with it, like celery sticks dipped in arsenic-laced ranch dressing. Pretty much a typical, entertaining, scathing, wicked rant and expose.

So, given that I've engaged constructively and you've claimed that I did not,

If you call that constructive, then our definitions of the term have very little in common, and we will simply continue to butt our virtual heads.

I'm left with two possible conclusions:

1. Either you did not read my blog-essay.
2. You did and ignored that which did not fit your internal framework of what is going on, and instead replaced with your own projections.


Or how about:

3. I read your essay and had to take a doze of anti-venom.

Since you clearly did read it, 2 is it.

See above.

And as far as the points you make to Anna about "good essays" -- very simply, an essay should be general but use specific examples of other generalities.

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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:15 am:   

Nick said:

Vera makes bad faith arguments as well. For someone committed to not saying negative things about anyone else's views, she sure was quick just now with the "Everything else is just a dog saying "Arf! Arf!"

*grin* Obviously you have not met me in my bitch mode. Actually, if you think this is me being negative, then you are misreading the sentence. The Arf Arf statement is a fun general metaphor for white noise, or non-constructive criticism. It is rather a harmless one, too. Why do you take offense so easily for things that are not even addresssed to you personally?

One other point. In my blog entry and in the essay I conclude by admitting freely that I have done my share of negative ranting.

I say: "And no doubt, at this point many would say that I too am guilty of ranting and they would be correct. I only hope that my future outpourings do more than merely negate opinion, but also create useful alternatives."

Anna said:

So blame me if you want to. But don't blame Vera.

Nick responded:

There is more than enough to go around. You never should have asked her to leave out specific examples, and she never should have agreed.

What bizarre nonsense. Blame for what? Who is placing blame? Both of us stand by our words and our expository format. Indeed, there is nothing "to go around" except some lively discourse.

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Anna T
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:18 am:   

Hi, all. Vera said:
"Blame for what? Who is placing blame? Both of us stand by our words and our expository format. Indeed, there is nothing "to go around" except some lively discourse."

That is exactly how I feel. It is perhaps my fault that anyone read the essay thinking, "Ooh, she's talking of .... in this." I admit that I x'ed out her examples in her blog itself, meaning IGNORED THEM. They weren't what I was interested in. I was interested, immediately, in the universal issues she brought up. I don't much appreciate my brain being treated as if it cannot function to supply the bleedingly obvious.

Nor did I realise that there would be people who are so much the in-crowd that they would think, "ah, so-and-so." Because, honestly, I don't think of the samd so-and-so's and nor do the majority of people who have ever read any of my small body of work. They all think of a collection of *different* ones, in all of what Vera's essay was discussing, including the factor of time. And that is what gives this essay universality, in my opinion.

My only worry, ever, about this essay is that very few people would ever read it, and thus, her work was wasted.

I feel honoured that her essay appears on my site.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 09:08 am:   

Vera: "Just little old me and the people around me. :-) Of course, you might well argue that those people and their belief structures too are coming from the old "canon" and that there's just no escaping it when we talk about literary high-brow and low-brow standards."

Bingo. When you say "Platonic," you ain't kiddin'. Your position implies that we are imbued with ahistorical, nonlocalizable literary tastes from birth (or before, to be really Platonic about things). Does this mean you consider pedagogy powerless to alter or shape tastes? Or peer pressure? Or the family circle?

It's common to excuse oneself from critical debate about literature by saying "Those are just my personal tastes." To this, I reply, "No, they're not. They came from somewhere, and drawing down the curtain of privacy doesn't change that."

The real problem is that we too often think it perfectly okay to question tastes and standards in the abstract, but ONLY in the abstract. As soon as they become personal (which they must, if we are to get anywhere at all), the conversation becomes uncomfortable and somehow invasive. We don't mind thinking about Taste, but we don't want to defend our own, often because we don't know how. We should learn.

Oh, and your analogy of the seasons is inapt to your purpose, I think, because seasons are cyclical, while cultural commodities are synchronic. I can walk to a small bookstore and find Faulkner, Wharton, and Rushdie sharing shelf space with King, Rice, and Koontz. I can't, however, enjoy a summer day in January. But even if I shop at a small bookstore which doesn't quarantine genre product, I am nevertheless aware of the hierarchy of positions established among genres and authors, which is why capitulation to such hierarchies, even in thought, does indeed keep things in their proper place. This doesn't mean we can't sneak a "bad" or "low" book from time to time. It only means that doing so is constructed as culturally naughty or wasteful.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 09:20 am:   

Kage: "maybe we were abnormal..."

I don't think so. I come from blue collar, and I liked Shakespeare almost instantly. I wasn't saying it's somehow unknown for the working classes to enjoy Shakespeare these days. I was saying that Shakespeare, prior to the cultural shift in the latter half of the nineteenth century, was common property for ALL classes in America. The shift involved many things, among them the working classes' often-violent politicization of entertainment (there were riots over Rossini, for god's sake) and the middle classes' equally political longing for privacy, exclusivity, and the purity of the text.

Because of that shift, Shakespeare has acquired an aura which makes him less likely to be accessed by less educated folks. And delivering Shakespeare to school kids as TEXT rather than performance certainly doesn't help. Shakespeare makes a lot more sense when you see it than when you read it, at least for many young people.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 09:37 am:   

CA McGee: "Isn't being specific precisely what keeps something from being ephemeral?"

Ephemeral means "here today and gone tomorrow." Using specific examples can very much render something ephemeral. But if the problem to be addressed is "here today," and you wish it to be "gone tomorrow," then ephemeral, specific examples may be just the ticket.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 09:48 am:   

Vera, I think you're missing something about Nick's strategy. Maybe this will clear things up a bit. When he says that sometimes things are so broken that they must be utterly done away with, and then says doing so will give rise to many new insights, he's not "backpedaling." He's following Nietzsche. It's nihilism. Sometimes, so the thought goes, dead things cling, like the "captain's corpse" in the Pogues song. They must be removed before we can move forward.

When I faulted you on capitulating to bourgeois standards, I was following reasoning similar to this. One cannot be satisfied with giving birth in a charnel house; one must first get rid of the corpses.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 10:35 am:   

Nick:

I have to say that the general impression you give is as of someone who tears down false idols--a counterpuncher. I don't see you as someone who puts forth their own ideas, but someone who waits for someone else to put forth theirs, and then you pull their ideas apart brick-by-brick, in the process revealing your own ideas and opinions.

There's nothing wrong with this approach in general, but it does leave you open to charges of just being a general complainer. Also, because your approach basically does not vary in its intensity, your responses often seem more aggressive than the situation warrants. Nor do you ever leaven your approach with humor, except of the sarcastic kind.

I enjoy your rants, and I think you're right at least half othe time, but you do have a tendency to just argue for its own sake, and you don't really pick your battles.

My point being that you can hardly express indignation when people have this idea of you that differs from your own idea of who you are...that would be naive, and I know you're not naive.

Your friend,

Jeff
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 12:01 pm:   

Anna,

And I also feel that Vera's fulfills the requirements, because in the subject that she explores, my personal feeling is that the wealth of examples, analogies, and reflections on the actual are supplied by the reader, in the act of reading and reflecting upon the essay itself and the reader's own experience.

I'm reminded of a weird convesation I had once with a girlfriend of mine, who like me, was also Greek-American. She was looking for a therapist but felt that only a Greek-American female psychologist (of which there are only a few) could help her because of "cultural differences." As she was about as assimilated as it got, I asked what she meant.

And she said, "Well you know, when you're a Greek girl and start going on dates, Greek fathers always get very angry and start calling you a whore and slapping you...it's just what they all do."

This, needless to say, was news to me, my sister, all my female cousins (of which I have more than 30), and every other Greek, Greek-American, Greek-Canadian, and Cypriot-American woman (or father, for that matter) I've ever known, from those currently in Greece to those here for three generations.

A good essayist doesn't just leave examples up to the reader because readers will certainly have wildly different experiences and interpretations of events. If one is hoping either to explore a subject or persuade a reader, one has to offer some specifics.

Vera's essay was not a good one. You made it worse by eliminating any sense of reality it had in exchange for what you call "universality", but was in fact vaguery. You failed as an editor. This isn't meaningful except insofar that good essayists will now know not to take your advice or if they must to publish on your site, will just take their work elsewhere. No skin of anyone's nose, really, but you certainly can't expect people to sit here and be convinced that a poor essay was a good one cuz you insist that it really really is.

Nor did I realise that there would be people who are so much the in-crowd that they would think, "ah, so-and-so." Because, honestly, I don't think of the samd so-and-so's and nor do the majority of people who have ever read any of my small body of work.

They likely haven't. However, they all read this board, which you used to publicize the essay. I got three different IMs from people, including our mutual publisher, saying "Hey, did you see Vera's essay about you?" within about five minutes of your post going up.


You said you mentally crossed out the names of the people Vera referenced on the blog. I find it hard to believe that you'd be so willfully sloppy in your reading. When most people read and essay that says "X did Y" they at least feel some need to say "Hmm, wonder if X really did do Y. Maybe I should look up X and see." Apparently, you're so sure that Vera's blod entry expressed some universal (or even proximate) truth that no vetting for logic or facts was necessary.

Remind me to keep you away from all campaign advertising. Your head might explode.

Vera,

I have a BA in English, but like Venkman from Ghostbusters, I "did not study."

I don't have a BA in English. In fact, I took all of one literature course, freshman composition, and that's it. At any rate, as we're ultimately talking about what kinds of expression are persuasive, and what the goals of specific essays are, it hardly requires a BA in English. This isn't some esoteric subject, it's discussed whenever two people are around, one of them opens up a newspaper to the op/ed page and says "Hey, listen to this..." So please please please leave the "Yuk yuk, I'm just ten years out from milking goats on the steppes, so I dunno what yer sayin....but I know I am right" schtick at home.

To use your medico example is silly since it does not accurately serve as a metaphor for the essay situation.


Yes it does. "This system doesn't work at all" is a sufficient argument. In this case, Morris's claims of elitism were wrong from the very beginning for a simple reason: all of his "proofs" of elitism had nothing to do with elitism. Thus my response, which said "This essay has nothing to do with elitism. A better essay would have looked at X, Y, Z. Strange Horizons should be embarrassed to have published this dreck. D-. Revise and resubmit." Your response seems to be, "You big meanie! What about elitism!"

What about it? Morris didn't talk about it either. He misnamed some differences of opinion and his own social gaffes "elitism." Two different things.

Clearing out the deadwood gives room for *multiple* new insights.

Whereas only a post or two ago you said: sometimes entire systems are so utterly broken that there are no "insights" available. Any offered "insight" would just be a stopgap paste of rhetorical tricks, epicycles, and handwaving.

Backpedaling?


No. Did you study so little at college that you don't know what the word "sometimes" means? Sometimes systems are so broken that no insight is possible. There is no need, when responding to an essay by a Holocaust denier, for example, to prove that the Holocaust really really really did happen. One need only puncture their arguments.

Other times, simply saying "Leeches don't work" is enough to empower dozens of people to figure out what might work. However, if your insight is, "Leeches don't work, only prayers to St. Jerome will!" then your patients are still up shit creek.

And let's see what you call Morris's valid point:

"I myself have experienced such scorn. I've had award-winning authors make mocking faces during my answers to a media question from the audience and one award-winning editor literally speak over her shoulder to me, her back being the only thing I was granted to make full eye contact with, all because of my position on media SF/F/H. The more I watched and listened, and the more I witnessed with my own eyes and ears, the more it was impressed upon me that media fans were deemed as mindless drones not smart enough to read, and not needed by those in the literary circles."


Plain and simple, this is not a valid point. In fact, it's not even a point. It's a claim, and it's a claim that makes little sense. He is literally describing something that does not exist. He may as well be saying "The more I watched and listened, with my own eyes and ears, the more it was impressed upon me that media fans were the only human beings at the cons I were attending, and that literary fans were in fact animated bananas made to walk and talk by black magic."

WHO thinks that media fans are mindless drones? The concoms that set up anime, gaming, and movie suites at cons? The fans that pack panels on Buffy, X-Files, and The Matrix? The writers who generate dozens of novels about everything from Star Wars to Warhammer?

Morris said people made faces at him, but that means that they're elitist? No. As someone who has actually seen Morris in action on a panel (Jersey Devil Con 3), I can think of at least two other good reasons why he might experience scorn when on a panel:

1. He shills his horrid novel constantly, even when it makes little sense to, like on a panel about anime.
2. He's comes off as a dip, for example, by suggesting "The Animatrix" as an obscure, unknown, anime that people may not have heard of, but would assuredly like if they'd just give it a chance.

I can also think of a reason why someone may speak over his shoulder to someone else. He, like too many fans, may like to wedge himself into conversations he wasn't previously a part of and make a splash by acting shocked Shock SHOCKED that someone would express an opinion other than his own.

If his "valid point" is simply that he likes tv and movies and that some people don't, uh, so what? How is it "elitist" to actually like what one likes and dislike what one dislikes? Of course not.

What happened, as far as I can tell, is that people other than Morris believe that they have experienced elitism within pro/fandom too. Even though their own experiences may have been radically different, and by that I mean they may have actually happened, they "felt" that Morris was saying something because it seemed to correspond to what they feel. And then of course any anti-Morri- essay statement, like "This essay doesn't make any damn sense; I know because I can read without projecting my neuroses onto the imaginary situations he describes" is itself a sign of elitism.

When people paint themselves as the Ultimate Victim, the rest of the world is a Big Bad Bully. It's projection.

The constructive and valid points were engorged with it, like celery sticks dipped in arsenic-laced ranch dressing.

So the essay is different than you originally described it, which is that "he goes off to present his own brilliant, devastating opinion (usually backed with deadly, accurate facts and astute observations). However, there he stops."

If you're now saying that the destructive stuff was so destructive that nobody could figure out the constructive elements of it, I need only point out that Jay Lake immediately did so, and wrote his own essay based on my ideas. So what's the difference between Vera and Jay? Can Vera not read? No, that's clearly not it. Simple: something internal to Vera, like a predisposition to side with people who claim, wrongly or rightly, to be victims of fannish oppression, led her to mischaracterize my essay.

Blame for what?

For yet another crappy essay floating around the Interweb.

Who is placing blame?

I am, of course.

Both of us stand by our words and our expository format.

Right, which is a signal to the planet saying "Vera and Anna don't know what makes a good essay." Message received, thanks.

Jeff: My point being that you can hardly express indignation when people have this idea of you that differs from your own idea of who you are..

I'm not indignant at all. I was pointing out that Vera mischaracterized my essay, and that I knew it was a mischaracterization as opposed to a failure of the essay to make sense because a number of other people as well-read and as well-informed as Vera got the point immediately.

If I'm indignant about anything, it's only due to repeatedly reading bad essays (Morris's, then Vera's) and being told that "No no, they're really good essays! Only big meanies would ever point out that an essay needs to make sense or use real examples or have anything to say at all!" My idignation, if anything, is as a reader being offered a tray of crap, not as a writer or as the subject of an essay.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 12:35 pm:   

That's a lovely site Anna, and a good idea, I think. The idea of dueling essays puts me in mind of early modern philosophers like Descartes and Spinoza, who exchanged letters with other thinkers of the day and even lodged and responded to formal objections within their works.

Re: Nick vs. Vera, it's easy for me to see where you are both coming from. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting either of you, but from what I've read online, Nick does strike me as having an ultimately positive or constructive agenda. This thread on the F&SF board either makes or disproves my point, depending on how you read it. I saw the ridiculous original post, shook my head and moved on, thinking it wasn't my job to disabuse people of their questionable notions. That Nick made the effort, and continued to make the effort, means he was willing to commit personal energies to total strangers -- and in the end, the thread turned into a pretty informative forum.

I read Vera's essay as an explication of a choice, rather than a logical argument. Every point Nick makes about it is right on the money, but ultimately irrelevant to Vera's stance. When someone presents us with a flawed argument or point of view, we choose how to react. Nick's reactions, in my opinion, represent a rational-ethical high road -- he tirelessly engages his opponent on logical grounds. With some people, this is effective.

My reading of Vera's essay places her in the anti-rationalist camp, however, and therefore outside the sphere of rational-ethical argument. A quick definition of antirationalism from a book called The Sense of Antirationalism (Carr & Ivanhoe):

Antirationalism is not a view opposed to or inconsistent with being rational; rather it is a
principled objection to rationalism. Rationalism is here taken to be the view or rather the family of views that holds that reason takes commanding precedence over other ways of acquiring true knowledge. In its strongest form, rationalism is the view that only reason can lead to true beliefs. Many intuitionists in esthetics or ethics, most sensibility
theorists in ethics, and many other particular
philosophical positions are all forms of
antirationalism.

So conceived, antirationalism is a philosophical position about how one grounds certain kinds of truth claims, particularly those concerned with establishing the proper ends of human life. While antirationalism
does not deny the value of reason even in this
project, it denies that reason alone will enable one to choose and pursue the proper goal of life. Antirationalists believe in alternative sources of guidance. They maintain that we have a tendency to place too much trust in abstract, apersonal forms of reasoning and this leads us to lose contact with these important, alternative sources of wisdom. Our excessive trust in reason thus hinders our ability to
see things as they really are and to act properly and effectively in the world.


Again, I'm not trying to put words in mouths: I read Vera's essay as an antirational stance. She says: Maybe I am getting soft in my old age and I probably am but I no longer feel okay to put down anyone. Not even when they are terribly wrong according to my worldview. This, to me, is a different way of knowing. One chooses to act in a certain fashion, and perhaps change the mind of her opponent through non-rational means. This is a principled approach, and the one I most often choose to adopt.

Anyway, just my two cents (one & a half cents, Canadian).
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 01:13 pm:   

Robert, I think you're confusing antirationalism, which stands in opposition to the tradition of the Enlightenment, with lack of facility with logic. The two are not the same. Your equation of her essay with antirationalist thought would suggest that every poorly-argued expression of personal preference is somehow a philosophical position. It isn't, any more than saying we've never read the Phaedrus is somehow a liberating assault on Platonism.
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Carole C
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 01:19 pm:   

A low brow comment. I liked the animal noises part of your site, Anna, and I particularly enjoyed 'Several Tasmanian Devils fighting as they feed off kangaroo carcass'.:-)
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 01:43 pm:   

Neal;

That's a fair criticism. My position is, though, that the Morris Strange Horizons article is a poorly-argued expression of personal preference, and the Nazarian blog entry is -- or wants to be -- an explication of a philosophical position. It's a value judgement on my part, and I certainly can't prove it logically.

Morris dresses up his absurd complaints in rational clothing and Nick rightly knocks him down. Vera (indirectly) suggests Nick shouldn't have responded the way he did, which of course Nick has taken exception to. The sense I get -- and again, this is a personal value judgement -- is that Vera rejects Nick's approach not as a rebuke but as a means of asserting her own position. This is not the proper way to assert one's own view (as Nick points out). Vera, I think, knows she didn't express herself in a way those of us with more rationally structured views prefer, which is where the "bumpkin" persona comes in. I choose to see that as an apology of sorts, rather than a shield or excuse.

What is comes down to, I suppose, is that I am an elitist: Vera meets with my approval, so I'm willing to extend her a certain benefit of the doubt :-)
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Carole C
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:01 pm:   

Here is link to cool animal noises:

http://abc.net.au/archives/av/mammals.htm
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CA McGee
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:19 pm:   

Neal, my "ephemeral specific" rebuttal was a result of me misunderstanding what Anna was saying. I originally read the remark "the ephemeral specific" to mean that she was equating ephemeral and specific, instead of "those specific things which happen to be ephemeral." Her subsequent statements about her intention have clarified to me what she was actually saying.

Nevertheless, being specific is what allows the essay to be about something -- rather than just a vague feeling. Calling out unnamed "gadflies" or "erudite online critics" does little to make the piece relevant. It's certainly possible that by giving those gadflies and critics names, it could be wishing "gone tomorrow" on itself, but vagueness is no formula for making a thing eternal, or even interesting.

The essay is weakened by its lack of specifics and by the fact that it's an dissection of a particular event -- Tee Morris' essay and the attendant hubbub -- yet it removes almost all identifying references to it (save the mention of "Van Helsing," which becomes something of a nonsequitur without the Morris context). It failed to make the essay any broader or more encompassing. To someone who was familiar with the backstory, it seemed evasive and aloof.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:20 pm:   

Robert: "That's a fair criticism. My position is, though, that the Morris Strange Horizons article is a poorly-argued expression of personal preference, and the Nazarian blog entry is -- or wants to be -- an explication of a philosophical position."

Fine. But not an antirationalist position. For Vera's expression to be antirationalist, she would have to be expressing her opposition to Nick's use of reason as the sine qua non for assigning truth-value. She would have to be asserting that something--a specific "something," mind you--other than reason is capable of bringing truth to light, or of assisting reason in this task. This might be divine inspiration, women's intuition, or divination by chicken entrails, but it would have to be something. She is not doing this. She is seeking to establish a rational conclusion, but is failing to convince some of her readers. That's not antirationalist.

Also, I don't see Vera wearing a "bumpkin" persona. I read an admission that she feels intellectually inferior at times to other posters on these boards, a function of lack of study, by her own admission. Nick supplied the goat-milking yokel, not Vera.

And Robert, I notice you keep ducking behind that armored sign that reads "Personal Value Judgment: Authorized Personnel Only." Why do this? Why not let open public discourse remain 100% open and 100% public? What are we protecting besides our feelings? After all, as we've seen established so many times on these boards, there's nothing inviolable or unassailable about a value judgment expressed in public, and that armored sign is only so much Kleenex.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:26 pm:   

CA McGee: "vagueness is no formula for making a thing eternal, or even interesting."

We're in accord. I was only responding to what appeared to be a misunderstanding of "ephemeral" as "ethereal" or some other quasi-synonym for vagueness. Specifics do matter. Carry on.
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Anna T
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 02:38 pm:   

Nick,
We do have a different point of view in some things, and a different style in all ways. Yours works for lots of people. Congratulations.
My point of view is that it is wrong to express an opinion as fact. It is unproductive to have a tone of anger. It does no argument good to use pejoratives, or to attack in a personal sense. You know nothing about what I do politically, for instance, so should not draw conclusions on insufficient data. I am always open to good arguments, but haven't seen that you are. You may be and I haven't seen enough of what you've written to know, so perhaps I am wrong there, but from what I've seen, there is a tone of inflexible rightness, that roils.
About my reading Vera's essay and ignoring the people details, I read a great deal, and therefore continually use an irrelevancy filter, so I don't care to find out (and it actually mostly disgusts me) the juicy details of who said what to whom. I care about issues, not personalities. I don't like bitchiness, though many others do. Thus, world affairs I see as separate from the insulting level of 'discourse' in 'campaigns', and I stick to reading widely to find facts. I do enjoy a rational discussion, conducted in a civil tone. I have never seen you carry one out. Therefore I will not be answering any postings of yours, not because I don't have answers, but because I never want to be tempted to be infected by your angry tone, and I admit, there is a temptation to strike back and to be infected by your anger. But I've got better things to do with my life, and so do you. However, if you ever do adopt a civil tone, and stop regarding your opinion as fact, I would find discussions with you of great interest.

You often bring up good points, which is the saddest part, as I would like to engage in some mutually-respectful discourse, admitting that we both speak from our points of view (which aren't necessarily opposing) and both are capable of changing them, of being convinced otherwise.

However, I invite you to submit,
AND ANYONE ELSE WHO REVIEWS, a piece up to 500 words, to answer the question: WHY I REVIEW.
I will post all answers, absolutely unedited, of course,as a feature, on Jan 1, 2004.

If you feel that this is below you, as I expect you will, fine. No offense taken and no disparaging of your point of view. It's only my site, I don't know how many people will read it, and it won't pay.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:00 pm:   

I notice you keep ducking behind that armored sign that reads "Personal Value Judgment: Authorized Personnel Only."

To me, labeling something as a personal value judgement opens it up to discussion. It is a subjective choice, not something I wish to dress up as universal, incontrivertible fact.

For Vera's expression to be antirationalist, she would have to be expressing her opposition to Nick's use of reason as the sine qua non for assigning truth-value.

By my reading, she is saying this. If her position is, I no longer feel okay to put down anyone, then she is not able to participate in a strictly rational discussion. Nick is absolutely right. No one can or should disagree with him -- on rational grounds.

Vera's position as I see it (I am not Vera, nor do I speak for her), is one of faith or intuition. (Note: this does not mean that every contradictory argument everywhere stems from faith or intuition -- only that this one does). She is choosing to act nicely, no matter what.

There are certain things Nick Mamatas is able to say better than most of us, and I for one am glad he's there to say them. Next time I make an ass of myself (which could be now :-) ), I hope Nick or someone like him is there to stop me before I go too far.

But there are also things that intelligent, sweet-natured Russian girls are better able to say. Personally, when I really step in it, I hope there's a Vera Nazarian around to make me feel it's not the end of the world. Vera makes her points with charm and wit, and I think it's acceptable -- though not mandatory -- to respond in kind.

Good discussion, anyway, which I think was Anna's ultimate goal.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:36 pm:   

Anna said: My point of view is that it is wrong to express an opinion as fact.

Not to muddy the waters further, but for my own instruction, could you point out where you feel Nick expresses his opinion as fact?
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Anna T
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 03:50 pm:   

Robert:
It is a good discussion, and your last post especially, is wonderful.
On Shakespeare, I've enjoyed reading all the differing experiences.
It might it interesting to know (not my personal experience) that in the 60's in South Africa, Africaaner-speaking schoolkids(typically, would-be farmers, who weren't really comfortable with English, as they never spoke it where they lived) had to learn "Wikkelspeise"(the schoolkids' term for him, literally shake-spear in Africaans, always said with a hateful and contemptuous tone)in English as he wrote it, unsimplified, for the several interminable years of high school. This is one big reason that many of the kids left at fifteen.
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Anna T
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:13 pm:   

Robert:
You asked:
"could you point out where you feel Nick expresses his opinion as fact?"

Statements such as:
"Vera's essay was not a good one."
and
"No skin of anyone's nose, really, but you certainly can't expect people to sit here and be convinced that a poor essay was a good one cuz you insist that it really really is"

In the first case, I think that the statement is an opinion, expressed as a fact.
In the second case, there is the added factor of ascribing something to another that never happened, and stating that as fact.
I never insisted that Vera's essay is good, or anything of the sort. I have respect for readers to make up their own minds, and have wanted to foster discussion to that end.
I only said that IN MY OPINION I think it is good. I never sought to convince others, as there is no need. Indeed, I would not have discussed my intentions or opinions at all, other than I did at the first instance of saying that I liked her essay, but had to answer Nick's contentions.

I respect Nick thinking that this is a bad essay, and that I am a terrible editor, as his point of view. But I think that it is wrong to say as a definitive, that such and such IS something, when the point is subjective: or to ascribe falsely. Perhaps he wanted to think that I sought to put my point of view forward as right. That might be his style, but it is the opposite of what I am about. I like to see the differences of opinion here. I LIKE angsting about decisions that I have made, and thinking I might be wrong. That way, I grow, and my life is enriched, and therefore, possibly I can enrich others'.
But I do like opinions being expressed, as opinions, not as truths that are self-evident,and I abhor the twisting of words.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:40 pm:   

Anna;

Thanks for taking the time to point out those two examples. I read Nick's statements a little differently, though I can certainly see where you're coming from.

Vera's essay was not a good one is true according to certain objective criteria. Rationally speaking, it is poorly argued. I suspect you and Vera are just using a looser definition of 'essay' than Nick. Since Vera's essay first appeared as a blog, I feel it is appropriate to treat it in a non-formal light; Nick may not share that opinion.

No skin of anyone's nose, really, but you certainly can't expect people to sit here and be convinced that a poor essay was a good one cuz you insist that it really really is...

Again, Nick is perfectly correct that repetition is not a valid form of persuasion. I suspect he's coming at these statements from a slightly more formal angle than most people use conversationally. From a certain perspective, this is fact, though, not opinion.

If you look only at the words of Vera's essay, and don't allow a lot of room for interpretation, it could be read as an attack that basically says "Shut-up, Nick," and then proceeds to talk about Shakespeare and other logically unrelated issues. In light of this, I can understand why Nick has a less-than-sympathetic approach to the material.

Of course, I don't believe Vera wants Nick to shut-up at all. She has stated in this thread that she respects his views, which suggests her essay needs to be interpreted differently than "Shut-up, Nick." Further, I definitely don't think you are saying "Anna's essay works formally according to a set of objective criterion," but are saying it is a perfectly valid personal statement.

I suspect the tone you want for your site is somewhere between formal and informal, personal and scholarly. I'm comfortable with that approach, but there is potential for confusion.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:43 pm:   

Anna, you certainly have a high opinon of yourself and your ability to suss out the issues from the mere dirt the rest of us are apparently rolling around in, but ultimately I judge people by their actions, and not their self-concepts.

What you call your "irrelevancy filter" doesn't keep out the irrelevancies, it keeps out the facts, facts which are actually crucial to having an informed opinion. I can't say I'm surprised that you thought I was making a comment about your politics, about which I know nothing, because you seem to respond only with footstomps and poses of offense to any disagreement. But I was hinting at an analogy:

Take a political ad that claims "VanderMeer raised taxes 200 times, leading to immense poverty. Nazarian will get government off the back of big business by lowering their taxes, allowing them to provide jobs for Internet blowhards everywhere. This November, vote Nazarian!"

If you eliminate the names and specific claims as your "irrelevancy filter" would and stick only to the abstract shell of the issues, you'll at best learn that poverty is bad, which you should have known already, and at worst uncritically embrace Nazarian-brand economic monetarism, which may indeed be the worst thing to do to an economy.

Same with the essay you published. Vera's essay only makes sense if the two sets of "gadflies" she says exist actually do (and if no other kind does). But since you Bowdlerized the piece, which was no great shakes to begin with, readers have no way of knowing what the hell Vera is talking about. You say that readers can fill in their own blanks, but in fact they can only do that if they already agree with you and Vera about the reality of her framework.

And since Vera's framework is nonsensical, and certainly wasn't in evidence in the big ol' "elitism" debate -- which wasn't even about elitism but instead was about how SH published such a poor piece -- there is no reality to agree with.

I guess you can stomp your foot and say that no, your irrelevancy filter really and actually does work, but since you never check, how would you know? At any rate, I've already shown that Vera mischaracterized my blog-essay greatly, so there's a datum point showing how your filter failed you.

My point of view is that it is wrong to express an opinion as fact.

And yet you published an essay that did so repeatedly. For example:

Huge eager audiences salivate with expectation of brilliant denouncement, artful deconstruction, intricate dissection, repudiation, renouncing, humiliation, utter destruction, and then a victory stomping dance over the poor hapless victim's remains of inferior opinion or commentary.

While awash in value judgments, this is actually a factual claim disguised as an opinion. Is that really what motivated the audiences? Who knows! Vera certainly didn't ask anybody. She thinks so based on godknowswhat. Are "victims" always and necessarily hapless? Better tell nizkor.org to stop eviscerating those poor hapless Holocaust deniers then. Hey, it's all point of view, right?

A most recent example was the discussion of elitism and its complex presence in the genres, and the resulting animosity in the perception of media fiction versus literary or "true" original fiction.

More opinions stated as facts. Is there really elitism in the genres? Prove it. Is its presense really "complex"? That's transparently a value judgment stated as a fact. Was the discussion even about elitism?!?! Absolutely not. Morris mischaracterized his social bumbling as the fault of phantom elitists as far as I can tell, and I made no comments regarding elitism, except that there were simple steps a reporter could take to determine its existence or not. Vera, incidentally, took precisely zero of those steps. She started with her conclusion, and worked backwards by rejecting everything that ran contrary to her thesis.

It is unproductive to have a tone of anger

Is this an opinion or fact? Am I to assume, from your behavior, that what is acceptable is to pose as an aristocrat with a hankie to her nose, talking impatiently through clenched teeth at the lowlifes that dare hold her to some notion of facts and/or reason? I can't say I'm very good at that, Duchess Anna, but you seem to be doing a fair-to-middle job with it, at least.

However, if you ever do adopt a civil tone, and stop regarding your opinion as fact, I would find discussions with you of great interest.

Oh boy, you will??!?! i haven't been so blessed since the day Mr. Brownlow adopted me and revealed my true identity as the Leeford heir! Why I'd better turn over a new leaf right now! But first I'm going to have to insist that you actually learn how to tell a good essay from a bad one, because you just don't know.

Neal: Nick supplied the goat-milking yokel, not Vera.


Ahem: Call me a simpleminded idiot creature from the old country, my friend, but I have no idea what you just said in the sentence above.

No history here, no complicated burgeois school of criticism to fall back upon for setting my tastes. Just little old me and the people around me. :-)

I'd find Vera's "In former Soviet Union, book reads you!" schtick a bit less tedious if she actually was having any difficulty keeping up with the conversation. She certainly seems to know exactly what is going on, and expresses herself just fine, even immediately after one of her disclaimers.

I find it doubly tedious because, if we were to map out our demographic backgrounds, Vera and I would virtually share a point.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:57 pm:   

I'm sorry anyone thought I was expressing an opinion as a fact, but I see where the confusion comes from.

I, indeed, was expressing a fact as a fact. Vera's essay was not a good one. This is not a matter of opinion. It is, indeed, a matter of what the word essay means.

As far as Anna insisting that the essay is good, that may have been a misstep on my part because I did not originally consider the fact that Anna may just be a wilfill provocateur out to humiliate Vera thanks to pure sadism.

I made the horrible presumption that Anna's editing and publication of the piece was evidence that she thought it was a good essay. I thought that her calling it the "top feature"of her site -- along with my apparently insane presumption that she offered such features to drive traffic to, rather than away from her site -- and her contention that the essay would be a great part of "the curriculum for all would-be critics" meant that she thought it was good. Now I see I should have also suspected that she was simply interested in destroying the framework for criticism in the future.

Further, when she asked for responses that were "thoughtful and thoughtfully written" I made the mistake of assuming that a) she felt Vera's was thoughtful and thoughtfully written and b) that such things are good.

And when she insisted "Good essays, I think, read better not mentioning the ephemeral specific, or being some name-calling or name-dropping in-piece, and therefore there was no question of guts, or pussyfooting" I actually thought that "therefore there was no question" meant "therefore there was no question". I further thought that her response at all, rather than letting the work speak for itself, was an attempt at persuasion. Now I see that it may well have been just a smokescreen to obscure her nefarious plan to fill her website with bad, nonsensical essays so that nobody will ever go visit it ever ever ever.

Or she just might be one of those people who think stapling an "I think" in front of a sentence turns that sentence automatically into an opinion. Which it does not.

Nick "I think Neal Stanifer cuts holes in the rinds of watermelons and has intercourse with them" Mamatas

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:59 pm:   

"Neal: Nick supplied the goat-milking yokel, not Vera.
Ahem: [Evidence of Vera's milkmaid routine]."

Okay, that's a fair cop. Where are those damn glasses?
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:00 pm:   

Since Vera's essay first appeared as a blog, I feel it is appropriate to treat it in a non-formal light; Nick may not share that opinion.


I treated the blog entry in a non-formal light. Once solicited, edited, and published by someone else and then presented to the public as a feature that would be a welcome edition to the curriculum for critics-in-training, the entry became an essay to be judged formally.

And in that it fails utterly, partially due to its provenance and partially due to Anna's ridiculous editing.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:07 pm:   

Nick: "This is not a matter of opinion. It is, indeed, a matter of what the word essay means."

Hmm... "attempt"? As in, an attempt to work one's way through a topic. From the French. According to Montaigne, at any rate.

And it's honeydew melons, Nick. Fewer seeds.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:22 pm:   

No, I'm refering to an analytic, interpretive, or persuasive piece of non-fiction writing, often with a personal sensibility or voice.

The personal sensibility and voice is there, but the rest is either missing or failed. She's analyzing strawmen, issuing self-undermining interpretations of "elitism", and certainly isn't working to persuade as she offers no specifics.

In fact, she acknowledges this in her conclusion. "This has been an expository bit of blather"

Yes it has. Especially if by expository we mean made public and not the setting forth of information.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:55 pm:   

Nick,

There is only one specific point to which I am going to respond here.

You say:

So the essay is different than you originally described it, which is that "he goes off to present his own brilliant, devastating opinion (usually backed with deadly, accurate facts and astute observations). However, there he stops."

I think you misread, I am not talking about Tee Morris here, but you.

Now, everything else, is simply such a morass of otherness, of things irrelevant and alien and incongruent to my arguments that I will not say anything else because I simply don't have the time or the energy to match them with responses point by point.

Also, Nick, I do understand your need to maintain your public position of gadfly -- it is pretty much your trademark -- and that to admit being wrong on any single point goes completely against the grain for you. Too bad, because admitting being wrong, even on tiny individual points, and accepting it, makes you a truer person.

So, there you go, you win, and I am plentifully wrong. Enjoy.

And by the way, everyone, please continue the conversation, it is indeed very energetic and fascinating. My essay is here for you to ponder, and whatever its effect, I hope it enriched some aspect of your lives. :-)

And of course, Anna, my friend, thank you very much for giving me the forum!
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 05:59 pm:   

One other note -- if any of you have enjoyed what I have to say (and how I say it), please take a look at my daily philosophical blog "Inspired.Us:"

http://www.inspired.us/

:-)

Vera

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 06:22 pm:   

I think you misread, I am not talking about Tee Morris here, but you.

Oh sweet Jesus. I know you were talking about my essay. That's why I made my comment in response to your claim "The constructive and valid points were engorged with it, like celery sticks dipped in arsenic-laced ranch dressing."

The reason you are wrong to characterize my essay as something that is destructive, but then just stops, is BECAUSE THAT IS NOT WHAT OCCURS IN THE ESSAY.

As I have already explained more than once, my essay goes on to describe what someone who wanted to write an essay on elitism could do if he wanted to make sense.

And as I have already explained more than once, the points I made couldn't have been all that obscure because Jay Lake then went ahead and DID what I suggested an essayist/reporter should do!

And I provided the link to him doing it, right here on this thread.

I then pointed out that on this thread, you changed your own position. In the essay, I did nothing constructive. On the thread you acknowledge at least a poisoned celery stick's worth of constructive though.

And now you think I was talking about Tee Morris. My God, I have to take back my previous claim that you actually have been able to follow the discussion. You clearly have no idea what's going on after all!

Also, Nick, I do understand your need to maintain your public position of gadfly -- it is pretty much your trademark -- and that to admit being wrong on any single point goes completely against the grain for you. Too bad, because admitting being wrong, even on tiny individual points, and accepting it, makes you a truer person.


Ah, so Anna is a aristo passive aggressive and you're the bumpkin passive aggressive. Well, I guess you have the bookends of the class spectrum covered.

Nobody says you have two have to argue everything, but pretending that any disagreement with your irrational essay is somehow the personality problem of the rational people you're arguing with is a bit much.

And just because someone may have knocked the Marion Zimmer Bradley book out of your hand in junior high doesn't mean that everyone is just out to get you to make themselves feel better. Some people actually manage to grow up and leave their teenybopper neuroses behind.

Try it some time.

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Anna T
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 01:58 am:   

Carole C,
I must be low brow as all getout, because I put those animal sound links in pride of place, at the bottom of the column on my site. Aren't those Tasmanian Devil sounds eerie? Go here for more about the Devil, and more sounds.
http://www.dpiwe.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/BHAN-5358KH?open
And for a really low brow experience, I offer one to you that I wrote about the fruitbats who musicify the evenings all around us when the "rough-barked apples" angophoras--trees that look exactly like eucalypts, but aren't. Typical of Australia's nefarious imposter plants!--now where was I? Yes. When they blossom.


BLOSSOM TIME WITH FRUIT BATS

A corroboree of witches
squabbles in the trees;
they'd knee each other
but they don't
have knees.

They're not polite and
they never say please.
Their eyes are limpid
but their tactics -
sleaze.

Never trust a fruit bat when
there's something sweet to eat.
If your toes are lickable
she'll leave you
sans feet.

Her loveliness is stunning
her fur a soft delight -
but when the blossoms
blossom, she only speaks
to fight.

Like a beauty on a sale day
just DON'T get in her way.
Between her and her
desire, there's only room to
--hey! *&*&$!
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Carole C
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 02:52 am:   

Thanks, Anna. It's quite strange to hear of encounters with Australian wildlife, which seems fairly exotic to me (I live in England).

A naughty thought did occur to me that the 'Devils' piece could have easily been renamed 'Several Critics fighting over the Crushed Body of a Colleague'.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 04:01 am:   

Also, Nick, I do understand your need to maintain your public position of gadfly -- it is pretty much your trademark -- and that to admit being wrong on any single point goes completely against the grain for you. Too bad, because admitting being wrong, even on tiny individual points, and accepting it, makes you a truer person.

So, there you go, you win, and I am plentifully wrong. Enjoy.

And by the way, everyone, please continue the conversation, it is indeed very energetic and fascinating.


Can you please just choose whether you want to insult him or not? "I know you're a sad sheep-molesting poseur who needs to flame people to prop up his own miserable self-esteem ravaged by years of being fat and smelly and undesirable to either sex, but I'm not going to stoop to your level because that wouldn't be nice now would it! Cookies, anyone?" fools no one and irritates me.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 08:50 am:   

Okay, Nicholas, that made me laugh, but I actually felt sympathy for your verb. Poor "fools" looks like a ten-year-old towing an Abrams tank.
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JV
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 12:33 pm:   

All of this would be solved by an hour in a pub buying rounds for each other...

Nick in person is a very nice guy. It is rumored that Anna and Vera are also very nice in person; I've just not had the pleasure yet, to confirm... :-)

JeffV
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 01:14 pm:   

There's nothing to *solve*, Jeff.

People in general dislike being condescended to.

People especially dislike being condescended to by people who don't know what they're talking about.

People certainly dislike being condescended to by people who don't know what they're talking about when the subject under consideration is the person being condescended to himself.

If you put some set of claims out to the public, you have to show your work, as it were. It's not optional. (This is not an opinion, this is a fact).

And it's the responsibility of the writer to make sure that the work is shown. It is not the responsibility of the reader to attempt to engage the feelings of the writer in a way that allows the writer to feel "safe" in expressing a view, or altering those views or their expression.

Vera's essay was an okay blog entry but would have been a better private journal entry, a rumination designed to allow her to hear what she thinks. But as it is simply a slice of an emotional state in the guise of an essay, it makes poor public reading.

It makes poor public reading for the same reason diary entries do -- attempting to engage it with anything other than the most unqualified praise reads, to the writer, as some sort of insult. That doesn't mean there are insults being cast. It is always a proper response to "Look at published this essay" to say "This essay is bad/good for reason X/Y."

Anna and Vera's imperiousness and passive aggressiveness respectively, it is clear to me, comes from the fact that the "essay" is not one -- it's an outpouring of Vera's feelings about whatever Hateful Things they have read or heard or been the subject of in the past, and that Vera's feelings have some correspondence with Anna's.

So Anna reads my "This is not a good essay" as "Your feelings are wrong" and draws herself up like a character in a Jane Austen novel to take her leave of the vulgarian. Vera reads my "This essay has no point" as "Your feelings are pointless" and then plays the poor, put-upon immigrant card.

It's nothing really, except sad, as both Anna and Vera wish to be taken seriously as publisher of essay and essayist but are either entirely unwilling or entirely incapable of dealing with the reading public on those levels. Instead, they feel that only proper comments are ones that genuflect toward the Primacy Of Feeling.

The Primacy of Feeling is a great way to run a love relationship, a family, and other elements of the private sphere, but it is a ridiculous demand to make upon any number of readers of a published piece. Published pieces are in the public sphere automatically and by definition. This is not an opinion. This is a fact.

And it's the sort of thing that can actually cripple the development of skills as an essayist or publisher. Ultimately, this is why nothing needs solving. Anna and Vera can get their heads together and show their work, or their time in the sun as essayist and publisher of essays will be brief indeed. Insisting that only readers who engage work with Authorial Feeling in mind read your stuff works to make sure that essays migrate back to diary entries.

It's a self-correcting issue. That's why it doesn't need solving.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 02:05 pm:   

Nick: "If you put some set of claims out to the public, you have to show your work, as it were. It's not optional. (This is not an opinion, this is a fact)."

How is this a fact? It's a normative claim, not a factual claim. [The difference (not for you, Nick, but for any of your third-parties who might not know) is the difference between "If you want better government, you have to vote for Kerry" (normative) and "John Kerry is six feet tall" (factual, though probably wrong). It's the difference between "must be" and "is." It's the difference between the imperative and the declarative. In this case, it's the difference between ethical preference and verification.]

Do you mean to say, instead, that anyone publishing a poorly-reasoned essay is quite likely to encounter opposition? That they have no right to expect acceptance of ideas which can be knocked over with a feather? Now, those are facts.

But that they "have to show [their] work" is a normative claim. It's a preference, strongly stated. A huge body of evidence exists that people publish shitty essays without showing their work and without suffering any curtailment of their misguided labors, thus making the showing of work an option, after all. That body of evidence includes the Internet, talk radio, and television, among other media, all of which are public.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 02:40 pm:   

Not quite. It is a fact because without showing work, you're not actually stating a claim. A claim is an assertion open to challenge. A free-floating assertion with no work to back it up doesn't even make it up to claim status as there's no need or even ability to challenge it. One simply points out that the work hasn't been shown, but that doesn't challenge the assertion. It's possible to even agree with the assertion while noting that it isn't a claim.

In fact, what one ends up doing in cases of a free-floating assertion is building one's own claim. If you have a claim, it can be undermined without making a counter-claim. One, for example, can show that a claim is self-contradictory on its own terms.

If one just spouts some assertion with no public or obvious reasoning behind it, there's no real ability to even differentiate what they're saying from the word salad of a paranoid schizophrenic. We don't know if it's even meant as a claim, or whether it was a mistake, a typo, a transposition of words, or a misfired synapse.

I'd actually suggest that there are many shitty essays out there on the web/tv/radio, but that nearly all of them make some attempt at showing work. They certainly do so poorly, incompletely, and through a pervasive appeal to fallicious reasoning, but challenges can be made on those grounds.

Vera's essay isn't shitty (only) because it is wrong, but because it is stillborn. It doesn't even qualify AS an essay.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 03:39 pm:   

This probably isn't worth arguing about, but my understanding of claims differs from yours, so here's how...

A claim is a proposition, an assertion, a conclusion. It carries a promise (at least in reasoned discourse) of being supported by grounds or proofs. A claim is the answer to the question, "What are you trying to prove?"

One can, indeed, make a gratuitous assertion (what you call a "free-floating assertion") which is still very much a claim. This is because grounds are extrinsic to claims qua claims. They are required the composition of any argument, but not for the statement of a claim.

Now, without grounds, a claim is sometimes just so much wasted print or vented gas, but it's still a claim.

Leastwise, that's how I understand claims and their grounds.

Now, an enthymeme contains both claim and reasons, but not grounds. In fact, I can think of no case in which the claim itself carries intrinsic grounds (shows its work). I don't even know how a person would write something like that. World's longest run-on, maybe?

So far as your equation of gratuitous assertions and schizophrenic word salad goes, I think you're being extreme when you needn't be. Most people can distinguish bad argument from schizotypical routines. The difference is pretty clear, in most cases. Now, the difference between good argument and bad argument is what more people should learn.

Because a bad argument can include claims, with or without support, the precise definition of a claim (as having grounds intrinsic or extrinsic to itself) is probably a non-issue. We both agree that good argument requires grounds, that gratuitous assertions are fallacious, and that a rhetor has a responsibility (in at least two senses of the word) to his or her public.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 04:04 pm:   

Most people can distinguish bad argument from schizotypical routines.

Perhaps it's differing personal experiences, but when I'm in a Wendy's eating lunch and some lady spills her punch and apologizes to the employee sent out with a mop by way of blaming Satan for always being an obstacle in people's life...and she gets a fair amount of sympathetic nods from people who look up from their food to pay attention to the conversation, and all this happens not ten miles away from the center of Manhattan, the apex of modernity, well then let's just say I wish people could tell the difference between bad argument and lunacy.

I've found the distinction useful in the past, though I acknowledge that the claim/assertion terminology is a bit of private language made public.
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Anna T
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 05:07 pm:   

Carole,
Delicious!You've added a whole new dimension the term *wildlife*.

"A naughty thought did occur to me that the 'Devils' piece could have easily been renamed 'Several Critics fighting over the Crushed Body of a Colleague'." - Carole
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JV
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 06:10 pm:   

Nick:

The fact is, whether you're right or wrong, the righteousness and condescending attitude that enters a discussion when you get involved is disturbing and unnecessary. It just dulls any interest I have in reading what you write.

[insert sarcastic rejoinder from Nick here]

JeffV
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 06:51 pm:   

And yet Jeff, and YET, you keep coming back and giving the topic another poke, don't ya?

I don't need -- and in fact, nobody needs -- Uncle Dad suggesting that everyone retire to the pub. Personally, I need very little. What I would like is that people actually take what is being said as something other than a launch pad for psychodramatics, and I keep coming back because Nicholas, Neal, Robert, and C.A. have on this thread provided what I like -- some level of fair reading and clear thinking.

Plain and simple, Jeff, you don't get to complain about the "condescending attitude that enters a discussion" when you respond to crap like:

It's lovely that you're doing so well. But I don't understand why you are wasting so much time on a bad essay on an obscure page of an author who doesn't get paid as you do to write essays, when the piece doesn't even mention you (and I insist, doesn't *avoid* mentioning you. You are, with respect, hardly canonical), and in the complementary links below, continues not to mention anything about you. You were not an issue, a topic, or, I feel, an appropriate example in this essay

...with your hands in your lap and eyes lowered like an obedient child at Sunday dinner.

That goes double when the lie has already been put to Anna's insistence that the piece "doesn't avoid" mentioning me, despite the fact that anyone can see the similarities between essay and blog entry and despite the fact that Vera acknowledged that Anna asked her to edit out my name (and others) even while all the surrounding text has been retained.

If you're going to waggle your finger in someone's face, be sure you have something worth listening to (I don't even care about tone, I'm just looking for a worthwhile point) if you don't want someone holding up a mousetrap to the offending digit. The snaps hurt, I hear.
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Deborah
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 07:10 pm:   

I've been skimming this discussion, but haven't had much to add, although I will say two things:

1. Nick's point is quite simple and shouldn't even be controversial: an essay which purports to analyze should contain an argument. An argument is a set of premises leading to a conclusion. In the best of all possible worlds that argument would be valid as to form and sound (true premises, true conclusion). The essay at hand does not contain an argument.

2. The word is "elitism" not "eliticism" and that bugs me more than any of the rest of this.
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Anna T
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 09:35 pm:   

Deborah:
"2. The word is "elitism" not "eliticism" and that bugs me more than any of the rest of this."
Yikes. I didn't see it till you pointed it out. Oblivious, I was. Of course, you're completely right. My typo, just not seen by me. Ugh, Twice! This kind of thing bugs me, too, so much so that I probably would have written the posteur off at that posting title, and at the repeated offence, rolled my eyes in disgust. Now it'll be there permanently to shame me as an illiterate, though the essay is indeed, titled as it should be. Thank you for pointing it out. No excuse on my part, though I might have done it right if Vera had been polite enough to have a decent last name like Smith! Vera, it's YOUR fault!
My spelling is dodgy now at the best of times, but that is no excuse for garbling an ism with an added ic, and not checking and checking again. I do know that there is no such word, but that didn't stop me doing it.My apologies to everyone for the tackiness of this appearing on the Nightshade.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 09:38 pm:   

Deborah, thanks for your input. I think the points you are making are valid. In fact, I thought they were valid some time ago, the first time they were made. Where were you then?

Providing a conclusion after the conclusion has been achieved will not earn glory. Providing a conclusion while people are still savaging one another... that's a different matter.

Deborah... jump in more quickly next time.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 09:39 pm:   

Deborah --

My essay contains a nicely shiny and very real primary argument (and several secondary ones), all of which I summarized repeatedly, but if you choose not to acknowledge any of it as such, oh well....

On the other hand, you are absolutely correct about "eliticism," and thanks for pointing that out! Big WHOOPS!

It appears that "eliticism" is not a formal word that can be found in a dictionary (I just tried looking it up), despite the fact that its usage is common all over the internet. This is where I must have picked it up. But now, even as I think about it, it somehow seems to be a "word" with enough familiarity and resonance that it *should* exist, so I think I'll just leave it in place, unless Anna feels we need to go by the dictionary. After all, this is all lowbrow and bumpkin, and such slip-ups are only natural.

As far as the rest of it, folks, carry on. :-) I am still here and reading, I promise!

And if I don't reply, please, do not take it as any sort of animosity or intent to insult anyone. And that goes for you, Nicholas Liu -- no insult was intended, I swear. Sometimes truth feels that way.

Nick Mamatas, my friend --

I will not respond to your posts on this subject simply because we are really not speaking the same "soul language," it seems, and beyond that there's just no reason for either one of us to get more upset. You will continue to think and do what you will and in your own manner -- obviously -- and I will continue to think and do what I will and in my own style. This exchange between us had to take place, and it is over and done with.

On the other hand, Jeff VanderMeer is absolutely right, we need to take a time-out and pretend this is a pub.

Here is a virtual round to you, Nick, and to all -- on me. *grin* And please continue to rip my essay to shreds.

I mean it.

It can take it.

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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 09:46 pm:   

Anna graciously took the blame:

Yikes. I didn't see it till you pointed it out. Oblivious, I was. Of course, you're completely right. My typo, just not seen by me. Ugh, Twice! This kind of thing bugs me, too, so much so that I probably would have written the posteur off at that posting title, and at the repeated offence, rolled my eyes in disgust. Now it'll be there permanently to shame me as an illiterate, though the essay is indeed, titled as it should be. Thank you for pointing it out. No excuse on my part, though I might have done it right if Vera had been polite enough to have a decent last name like Smith! Vera, it's YOUR fault!
My spelling is dodgy now at the best of times, but that is no excuse for garbling an ism with an added ic, and not checking and checking again. I do know that there is no such word, but that didn't stop me doing it.My apologies to everyone for the tackiness of this appearing on the Nightshade.


Dear Anna,

No way, it was my own wrong word usage, and I screwed up in the first place, nothing to do with you! One of the most common things overlooked in editing and proofing is the large obvious things like titles. It's been known to happen on book covers, and in really horrid glaring places.

I was gonna say we can leave it, thinking it was too much trouble (and almost a real word judging by its proliferation), but please fix it by all means! *grin*
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 10:08 pm:   

Okay, what's really funny is that I went to make sure it is spelled right elsewhere, but it already was. I have the word "elitism" correctly spelled in all the other places I posted about the essay and its title, and I have no idea how or why!

Maybe it really was a typo.

But... but...

The bizarre thing is that I find that the non-word "eliticism" still feels right somehow.

*boggled and amused*
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Anna T
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 10:25 pm:   

Vera, I get the dummy prize, not you. It was entirely my botching fault, messing up a perfectly good word. Elitism--write it a zillion times-- unaided by anyone. I did it again in the fine print at the bottom of your essay, in the copyright line. It's that damn 'criticism' following. This is going to haunt me forever, you know. And it is your fault. All yours. You know that having that stupid last name is half of it, but why you called it "Elitism, Criticism etc. (I almost can't type it, I'm so paranoid) is beyond me.
The essay, obviously should have been entitled:
"Elitism, Smith, and Whatever". That said, if anyone else had done it, the mistake would have glowed to me with the light of a thousand lighthouses. It's only mine that I don't see. But still, it's your fault, Ms kasha eater!
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 10:31 pm:   

Anna,

You gotta admit, there is a certain rhythmic power to it, "ElitiCISM, CritiCISM..." pound... pound...

*grin*

I still say it feels to me like it should be a word. After all, the English language is a living, mutating thing....
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 10:49 pm:   

I though it was elitism meets eroticism.

At any rate, I'm not upset at all. I am annoyed -- in the way one is annoyed at having a grocery bagger put the eggs at the bottom of the sack for the 90th time -- because the non-controversial point summarized by Deborah not a little while ago has somehow become controversial thanks to the sheer volume of brute force insistence to the contrary.

It doesn't take "soul language" to figure out what is actually going on in reading a text. It takes an open mind and good faith, neither of which are in essense.

There's a reason authors aren't supposed to respond to critics, and this seems to be a stellar example of why.
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Anna T
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 01:21 am:   

Neal:
You said, "Providing a conclusion has been achieved will not earn glory. Providing a conclusion while people are still savaging one another."

There is an implication here that a conclusion has been achieved, and in this discussion it seems to have been. I would just like to say that that conclusion refers to this discussion, but that given the tone of much of the savaging, it would have been intimidating for many people who perhaps would have liked to say, 'Uh. I got something from this essay. It certainly was clear to me, and in fact, I am glad to have read it.' I would think that many people would have been scared stiff to then be challenged themselves.

In fact, there seems to have been a bit of pack mentality, and people who would not want to have rings run around them would just stay out. As to norms and aesthetics, these are very much captives of time, but that is often forgotten, as each era both forgets other norms and scorns that those norms were once thought as fixed as those of today, and those of tomorrow.

As to Vera's essay, some of this discussion actually made me even more glad that she wrote it, and that she wrote it in the style and tone that she did. Informally, with a nice element of lovely self-deprecation and humour. And speaking to the universal.

I will add here that her tone is far more universally enjoyed than the tone of snideness that many essays have today.

So as to 'conclusion', I shouldn't think her essay should be summed up in so glib a manner. Many of you think it faulty and a failure. Fine. That is your opinion, but it must be remembered that is the 'conclusion' of a small group willing to jump into the 'savaging'.

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CA McGee
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 04:59 am:   

Anna,

When you invoke "the universal," I hope that you understand that while it may have great meaning for you, it's completely senseless to the rest of us. What exactly is "the universal" that you're talking about? It's undefined in relationship to anything, and I don't understand what it has to do with Vera's essay or anything else.

From this

norms and aesthetics, these are very much captives of time, but that is often forgotten, as each era both forgets other norms and scorns that those norms were once thought as fixed as those of today, and those of tomorrow.

you have established your opinion that norms and aesthetics are invalid as a basis for judgment.

Your statements seem to descend from some ivory tower where time and space don't exist. "None of this would have been an issue in the fifteenth century" is not a defense, it's an evasion. Refusing to acknowledge that the norms and aesthetics that exist today do, in fact, exist, isn't just impolite, it's intellectually repellant.

And removing references to relevant people and things (however ephemeral you might consider them to be) does not make an essay "universal," it makes it meaningless. Would you ask someone writing an essay about National Socialism not to mention Adolph Hitler? Would you excise the name "Hippocritus" from a discussion of medical ethics, in favor of talking about some kind of mystic principles that we all just know deep within our gonads? Perhaps the scale is not the same but the principle -- universal principle, even -- remains.

As far as the "pack mentality" that you cite as a reason that no one has stood up in defense of the article except its author and the editor who published it, I think there's a simpler solution available.

Do you really think that people are so fragile that they're afraid of voicing their opinion on some internet bulletin board? Their egos are so precious that they can't stand the idea that someone might gainsay their opinion? Isn't it more reasonable to assume that what you call a "pack" is actually a representative majority, and that such minority as exists is either unwilling or incapable of defending its contrary position?

I don't consider my statements as savage -- I'm just stating my objections to both the article and its subsequent apologia. None of this is directed at you as a person or Vera as a person. We're all adults here and we're all I'm sure lovely people, but that doesn't change the fact that your statements are nonsense.

If any of this seems harshly rendered, just imagine it being spoken by the Macintosh's Talking Moose, which is a pretty accurate version of what my actual speaking voice is like. It won't seem mean or bombastic, and perhaps it'll even be a little bit funny, but it certainly won't render any of what I'm saying invalid. I'm not raising my voice or gritting my teeth or being uncivil -- I'm just questioning authorial and editorial decisions in the good faith of reason, a universal virtue if ever there was one.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 05:05 am:   

How do you know that it's a minority of people who think Vera's essay is faulty and a failure? And how is "Oh well, you may think X, but remember that there are people who think Y" at all helpful to you? It cuts both ways.
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CA McGee
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 06:34 am:   

I'm not saying definitively that it is or is not a minority; I was proposing an alternative to her "pack mentality" theory, which is that it seems more reasonable to assume that the voices here are representative of general opinions. If there were people who thought the essay was cracking good and ought to be defended, then they should raise their voices. The fact that they haven't seems to be indicative of something. That something might be, as Anna proposes, that they are intimidated. But I don't think so, and there is no reasonable grounds to assume that that the opinions of posters here did not represent the majority.
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AliceB
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 07:28 am:   

"Do you really think that people are so fragile that they're afraid of voicing their opinion on some internet bulletin board?"

Yes--if they think they will be personally attacked rather than have someone disagree with their statements.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 07:43 am:   

CA, I was responding to Anna.
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CA McGee
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 07:51 am:   

Nicholas, Sorry. Thanks for the clarification.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 07:51 am:   

The "pack mentality" has a simple refutation in that there were equal numbers of people in both packs for the first half of the thread at least.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 08:04 am:   

Okay, one more time, this time with Feeling(s)...

Anna: As to norms and aesthetics, these are very much captives of time, but that is often forgotten, as each era both forgets other norms and scorns that those norms were once thought as fixed as those of today, and those of tomorrow.

I'm not sure who you have in mind as the Forgetful, or which norms and aesthetics you number among the Forgotten. Specify.

For my part, I argued to Vera that her capitulation to bourgeois norms of taste was colliding with her equivocal semi-blaming of elitism (a hard argument to prove because Vera herself doesn't seem to know how she Feels about elitism). Elitism is governance by elites, whether we're talking about civil government or the governing of markets in cultural goods. Those elites come from somewhere, and they establish themselves through some kind of authority. They enjoy privileges the rest of us do not, and thus they have something to defend. When we permit the high/low binary to steer our Feelings about our reading, without questioning Who Gains by that binary, then we have genuflected to elites, we have allowed their authority over our tastes to go by unquestioned. This situation is made more grotesque in our own day precisely BECAUSE we have forgotten where these old norms came from; they are now residual elements of a bygone social formation, but they cling like the aforementioned Captain's Corpse. They must be analyzed, questioned, and cleared away, or we will spend the rest of our lives, like Vera, equivocating about value judgments, and like many posters on these boards, performing the occasional tuck-and-scurry to the Sacred Kingdom of Feelings when speaking of matters which are of Public importance: economics, politics, and aesthetics, among others.

So I don't suppose I'm the one forgetting norms or where they came from. And the only norms I've heard Nick espouse are those which have governed reasoned debate since...well...Classical times, at least. In fact, one might make the argument that Western civilization as we know it, exists precisely because of a shift away from mere exegetical commentary (the second-order spewings of tonsured parrots) and toward rationality. This shift gave us science; it gave us rhetoric; it gave us the Rights of Man (and later, Woman); it gave us the most open and free polity we'd ever seen. But you're quite right in one thing: we do seem to forget that reason is what holds these things together. We need to get it straight. Reason is NOT a strait-jacket that unfairly limits our free expression of feelings; it IS the road to liberation. No one ever freed herself from oppression because she Felt Free.

As to Vera's essay, some of this discussion actually made me even more glad that she wrote it, and that she wrote it in the style and tone that she did.

Me too, especially if it's true that people are capable of learning from their mistakes. I think Vera's "essay" might have been a lot better. Beneath the savaging, as you call it, of Nick's posts, there are tips for making better essays. I hope Vera will be able to find those and put them to use.

So as to 'conclusion', I shouldn't think her essay should be summed up in so glib a manner. Many of you think it faulty and a failure. Fine. That is your opinion, but it must be remembered that is the 'conclusion' of a small group willing to jump into the 'savaging'.

Wrong. As an essay, and especially as a persuasive piece of argumentation, Vera's ex-blog entry fails structurally. This is not merely the opinion of a small knot of attack dogs, Anna; it's been demonstrated. Now, this doesn't mean that some people out there don't FEEL that Vera's writing speaks their own "soul language." Hell, I could walk into some Blessed-Be Books and Chai shop and sputter out any number of well-meant sophisms, and I'd get reflexive head-nods, just like the Wendy's crowd in Nick's anecdote. Those folks might FEEL I was right when I said "Blessed Goddess has sent us Summer" or some equally groundless claim. That wouldn't make my gratuitous assertion work as an argument or an essay. Arguments and essays have structural/formal requirements to fulfill. As Deborah says,

an essay which purports to analyze should contain an argument.

Vera's piece fails on these grounds. QED. Now, some might FEEL this is unfair to the untutored, or that it unfairly limits the growth and expansion of our Expressions of our FEELINGS, but them's the breaks, kiddo. If you seem to be making an argument, those before whom you place that argument have a right to question its foundations. And if they find your essay wanting, they have a right to attack it.

In fact, I would go further. I say they have a Duty to attack it. They have a Duty, bound up in Civitas, to protect and redeem the efficacy of public discourse. They have a Duty to ensure that arguments laid before the public meet at least some minimum standards of reasoned discourse. And when these standards are not met, they have at least the Duty to point this out to the public, precisely BECAUSE not everyone is aware of those standards or why they are important. Not attack dogs, Anna, but watchdogs.
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CA McGee
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 08:09 am:   

AliceB -- I haven't seen anything yet that I'd classify as a personal attack. No one's yet called anyone a Nazi or a fat slob. At worst, there have been attacks on people's reasoning or their methods, but not on their persons.

But look, regardless of all the "sticks and stones etc.", personal attacks on the internet are just guys and gals sitting at their keyboard typing stuff. The things they say shouldn't be able to hurt you. If they do, then you need to find a more soothing pasttime.

If a person has got something to say, say it. If Nick Mamatas responds and says it's ridiculous and wrong, then write again and support the argument. Repeat ad nauseam.

If it's really so bothersome, then at the very least, a person could come in, write a long post and then disappear forever, content to let the words shine immortal on the NSB board.
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AliceB
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 09:50 am:   

CA--in principle, I might agree with what you've written, except that personal attacks have appeared. Vera and Anna have more than once been classified as poseurs, or wannabe aristocrats, and Jeff has been called "Uncle Dad" (although I love the image). Telling someone that their idea came down an ivory tower begs the question: how did that person get the idea to start with?

Invective and attack are easy--but stiffling. It shuts people up--those who do not agree with the people attacking. And before you tell me that I have no basis for this opinion, I do. I spent ten years as a litigator. One tried and true litigation technique is to browbeat to death one's opponent. It is remarkably effective in a large number of cases. However it rarely leads to a just result (not that litigation is about justice, but that's off topic).

Best,
Alice
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 10:20 am:   

Alice: One tried and true litigation technique is to browbeat to death one's opponent. It is remarkably effective in a large number of cases. However it rarely leads to a just result (not that litigation is about justice, but that's off topic).

Would it be correct, then, to say that litigation is about winning? That it's part of an adversarial legal system in which ethical attacks (and by this I mean attacks on credibility and authority) are common fare? Would it be surprising, for example, if a DNA analyst were characterized as an absent-minded drunk in order to introduce reasonable doubt into the results of a DNA test, and thus to exculpate a defendant? Would it then be fair to say that lampooning the persona adopted by your adversary is effective precisely because it evacuates (or at least brings into question) their ethical claims to authority?

Would it then follow that Nick's slashes at what he has characterized as Anna's aristo, Vera's bumpkin, and Jeff's avuncular personae were effective in clearing away the baggage of those poses, in evacuating whatever positive interpretation might have been accorded them, and in fact, in turning them against those who adopted them?

Those poses (whether genuine or not I can't say) were rhetorical artifacts. They were built of words inserted into arguments. Why, then, are they not fair game in any rebuttal? Why, then, should the rhetor ever tie his ankles together by acquiescing NOT to attack a position of his opponent which may accord that opponent credibility in an argument?

But all this is rather a side-issue when the real matter being debated on this board and several others, in the presence or in the absence of what you characterize as personal attacks, has been the arguments themselves and their subsequent defenses. In this, Nick has proven to be more thorough-going than most of the posters I've seen on these boards. That he ratchets up the rhetorical heat more quickly and readily than other posters does not mean he is not addressing the arguments; it means he has a highly aggressive style which must be taken into account by his opponent, no less so than the passive-aggressive style of the Cult of Feelings must be taken into account by others.

Where's the unfairness here?

As Jeff implied in his defense of the personal qualities of the three posters he named, most people on these boards are probably very friendly in person, respectful to others, and maybe even kind to their pets and grandmothers. But they are not here in person until and unless they introduce their own backgrounds and personalities as targets of opportunity. Nick knows this. Perhaps some others should learn it.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 11:45 am:   

I don't think Anna's arguing epistemology here. She isn't talking about shifts in the bedrock foundation of knowledge, or prejudices of the times, or the limits of rationality, but saying rather that normal people don't converse in an overly formal way, and would not therefore object to Vera's essay.

Vera's piece was written informally, as a personal statement/response. That was fine when it was just a blog entry -- once presented as an essay, however, it was judged by different standards. As an essay, it fails (although it is not *worthless* -- its worth just falls outside of the realm of "essay"). The confusion seems to stem from wanting to have things both ways (to be both personal and universal, maybe?).

After all, this is all lowbrow and bumpkin, and such slip-ups are only natural.

Why I like this persona obscuring, rather than find it (merely) an example of passive-aggressiveness, is that it reminds me of Kierkegaard's pseudonymous antics in works like "Fear & Trembling." There is the kernel of a principled stance being taken in Vera's article, though it is not at all developed. As suggested upthread, a new essay could perhaps be written that fleshes this position out.

For now, the issue remains the word "essay," and exactly what it means. There is a specific, well-defined meaning of essay, so that issue's pretty cut and dried.

I've personally become very interested in just where the line between essay and blog might lie (for the sake of clarity, let me specify that there indeed is such a line). The internet is a uniquely interactive medium, and I like the idea of essays that are not quite -- and, indeed, may never fully become -- complete (which begs the question, would such an entity be an essay?). I tried my hand at creating a fuzzy essay (one with indistinct boundaries) last month at the Internet Review of Science Fiction (http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10076), presenting a fairly focused argument, but cutting out some of my support. I expected to be taken to task on some of my loose statements but, for whatever reason, that didn't really happen.

In the interests of furthering this discussion, and further exploring exactly what an essay can be, I've submitted one to Anna for possible inclusion on her site. If she likes it enough to put it up, it might be instructive to tear it apart :-)
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 11:55 am:   

When I suggested that Anna T was affecting an aristo pose, it was because she was.

When I suggested that Vera was playing the "I'm a poor peasant" card, it was because she was.

When I suggested that I didn't need an Uncle Dad from Jeff, it was because he appointed himself Uncle Dad.

The quotes are there, the posts are there, it's all there. In fact Neal called me on the Vera peasant thing, until I showed that she had in fact played the card first.

A fantastic way to avoid being called out for aristocratic poses is to avoid aristocratic poses, etc etc.

It's not a personal attack to point out that someone is being deliberately disingenuous in what persona they've adopted as a substitute for actually discussing the issue.
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AliceB
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 12:02 pm:   

Neal,

In most legal circles, browbeating is not considered ethical. Direct and cross examinations in a courtroom setting are a carefully orchestrated show, with rigid rules of discourse, which come after most of the litigation work is done. Even the worst browbeaters know better than to denigrate their opponents (which, if you are looking for an analogy for the present discussion, would be the opposing attorneys) in front of a judge.

More than 90 percent of litigation is settled before any trial begins. The purpose of browbeating outside of the courtroom is to gain a bully's tactical advantage--the opponent walks away rather than take the pain the bully will inflict. Browbeating is frowned upon by most attorneys, almost all judges, and by the code of ethics that govern attorneys' conduct. And, despite what is shown on tv, it is not what the majority of litigators do.

This discussion board is not a courtroom. There is no one out there judging the right or wrong of what we say other than ourselves. You assume that people are taking rhetorical poses, and therefore you can attack the poses--which, by the way, I've never seen done in a courtroom. You are assuming a fair amount about people who post, in giving license to others' personal attacks. "Clearing the poses" doesn't clear the air, it clears the board of people who might have something to say about the debate for fear that they, too, will be "cleared" in the same dismissive manner.

As for the debate itself--I have found it interesting, other than when peoples' "backgrounds and personalities" are used "as targets of opportunity." I do not consider that ethical.

Best,
Alice
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 12:23 pm:   

other than when peoples' "backgrounds and personalities" are used "as targets of opportunity." I do not consider that ethical

Then where is your complaint to Vera, who repeatedly brought up her background and used it as a blugeon?

Ah, it is nowhere. Of course.


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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 01:06 pm:   

RBR: I don't think Anna's arguing epistemology here. She isn't talking about shifts in the bedrock foundation of knowledge, or prejudices of the times, or the limits of rationality, but saying rather that normal people don't converse in an overly formal way, and would not therefore object to Vera's essay.

Whether "normal" people would object or not awaits evidence. Several people I consider rather "normal" have spoken out against the contents of the essay already, and others I consider "normal" have defended it. If by "normal" you mean uncritical, you may be on firmer ground, but we still need evidence.

But let's take another look at what Anna actually said.

What Anna said: As to norms and aesthetics, these are very much captives of time, but that is often forgotten, as each era both forgets other norms and scorns that those norms were once thought as fixed as those of today, and those of tomorrow.

Now, I may be abnormal, but I think this says that norms and standards are relative, and implied within this is a rejection of a single normative set of conditions, laid down on this thread by the members of the "pack" to which she refers in the preceding sentence. The statement reads to me like an erudite way of saying "Just because this essay violates the standards of good public discourse as we now have them doesn't mean it isn't good public discourse by some other standards that might come up some day."

To which I say "bollocks." That one or a million people refuse to follow normative standards of public discourse does not render those norms less important. On the contrary, it makes them incredibly important, especially if what we seek to achieve is in any way "constructive" discourse.

You will note, also, that Anna neglects to mentions exactly which "norms and aesthetics" she is referring to. Can we assume that one of those norms is the requirement that an argumentative claim be supported with sufficient and relevant evidence? Is this time-captured norm residual, emergent, dominant? We don't know, because she is not specific in naming these norms. So we must infer. I've made my inference, but I'd rather have clarification so I can avoid the inevitable "that's not what I meant."

Why I like this persona obscuring, rather than find it (merely) an example of passive-aggressiveness, is that it reminds me of Kierkegaard's pseudonymous antics in works like "Fear & Trembling."

Perhaps it reminds you of Kierkegaard. You might have mentioned Ben Franklin with his Silence Dogood persona, for all of that. But the mechanism is different. Neither Kierkegaard nor Franklin employed the mask of persona as a way of dodging criticism, but rather as a way of entering public discourse from a new angle.

Jurgen Habermas describes one condition of early print discourse as "negativity," by which he means that participants were expected to leave their true identities outside when entering the public sphere, effectively to erase themselves as individuals, and to encounter and engage their fellow participants on the basis of the merit of their claims and support. Then again, this was before the age of ethical relativism, when everyone's feelings and opinions became equal and sacrosanct, and when it became effective to wave the banner of the simpleton or the victim in order to deflect criticism. We seem to have somehow permitted a discourse community wherein any serious and energetic dispute is portrayed as some yokel or emotional cripple being gang-banged by mobsters. And there goes rational debate, right down the crapper.

There is the kernel of a principled stance being taken in Vera's article, though it is not at all developed.

And once again, we're back to the galloping assumption that there simply must be some kind of "principled stance" suggested in Vera's essay. Upon what do you base this assumption? I see no evidence of the antirationalism you mentioned in an earlier post. I see irrational argument, but not antirationalism. From what internal evidence do you deduce this mysterious kernel? What is given is not like principled argument; it is a complaint about people not being nice to each other, and a plea for a constructive criticism which cannot, in fact, emerge if all opinions are a priori sacrosanct and worthy of respect.

As to the blog/essay question, I disagree with your terminology (and, as I suggested above, with Nick's). Not all essays are argumentative or persuasive. An essay, according to Montaigne, is an attempt to work through a topic to some end (essayer). Some essays are more formal than others, some more public than others.

As to your "fuzzy essay" with open boundaries, I'd just call that unfocused, which wouldn't mean others don't find value in it. Hell, some net-monkeys still believe we can create nonlinear narrative, despite the fact that narrative is linear by its very nature; it is an arrangement of experience into a form representable in language. But whatever floats your boat...
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RobertB
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 01:11 pm:   

Nick, as Matthew Stover once said to you, "Has it yet occurred to you that part of your problem is that you come off like an asshole?"

http://p198.ezboard.com/fdeadcitiesver3o19082frm16.showMessage?topicID=31.topic
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 01:24 pm:   

I stopped taking anything Matthew Stover said seriously when he decided that "lad mag" meant "gay porn" --hyuk hyuk yer a fag -- and that "term of art" meant "artistic."

If he thinks I come off like an asshole, that means I'm doing something right.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 02:57 pm:   

Alice: In most legal circles, browbeating is not considered ethical

First, I don't know whether or not you missed my clarification of "ethical attack," but I was not saying anything like "browbeating is ethical." I thought I was rather clear on that, perhaps even laboriously so. An ethical attack is an attack on character or authority, not an attack that is "hunky-dory" by someone's ethical standards. Ethos is one of the three points of Aristotle's triangle of rhetorical appeals.

Second, I subscribe to Kant's categorical imperative and its corollary, so I fully accept that "human beings are to be treated as an end, and not as a means." That's the foundation of my ethics, and it's also why I consider reasoned argument something worth arguing about; it is the single most important guarantor of human rights we have. Perhaps you disagree, but I sense you probably don't.

Third, you are completely correct when you say that This discussion board is not a courtroom., but you are just as completely incorrect when you follow this with There is no one out there judging the right or wrong of what we say other than ourselves. One does not follow from the other.

There are others, some of whom post and some of whom do not, who judge the value of these posts. In saying that, I am not arrogating to the posters here some spectacular quality they do not possess. I have personally seen numerous responses from what Nick would call "third parties," and what I would call simply fellow posters. I have also received private comments from others on these boards concerning what I've posted, so I know someone else is judging what we write, even if they decline to post for themselves.

Next: You assume that people are taking rhetorical poses, and therefore you can attack the poses--which, by the way, I've never seen done in a courtroom.

First, it's not an assumption to characterize a persona laid down in print as a persona. How genuine that persona might be is, for me, an irresolvable issue, as I think I clearly expressed in my previous post. But the fact of the persona's being in print (whether electronic or otherwise makes not a bit of difference) makes it an artifact of rhetoric. As an artifact of rhetoric, it is open to rhetorical attack. The choice whether or not to forbear from attacking that persona is situational. For example, when Patrick M., on the Revolution SF thread, characterized himself as something of an imbecile whose pride it was to serve as whipping boy for others, he left himself open to attack. When he peeped occasionally from around this persona to reiterate inane claims he could not support, he strongly invited those attacks. He got them because he called for them. But if I were to go onto a newsgroup which provided support for survivors of cancer and their families, I would have less reason to view the personae there as smokescreens, and therefore I would have less reason to launch an attack on anyone there.

The difference, I would think, is abundantly clear. All personae are personae, however close they come to reality. But some personae are used to deflect criticism or to reinforce an audience's reason to believe claims. If I am on the other side of the argument, I cannot fail to discredit those personae. And I thought my example of the DNA analyst proved that this sort of thing does indeed go on in courts of law. If you need further examples, how about the woman who claims she has been raped, and who is then turned inside-out emotionally by the defense attorney during examination? We both know that personae can be unreliable. We both know of cases where professional experts have been exposed as frauds. As I said, the decision whether or not to launch an ethical attack belongs to the potential attacker, who should select his or her battles and keep constantly in mind the rhetorical goal being aimed at.

Finally, you say: As for the debate itself--I have found it interesting, other than when peoples' "backgrounds and personalities" are used "as targets of opportunity." I do not consider that ethical.

When I assaulted the credibility of Holly Lisle on another board, I brought to light her lack of authority to speak out on the topic she had chosen. I thought that was an appropriate rhetorical strategy, but others will have to judge its effectiveness--persuasion is never intrinsic to the argument, but a factor of audience reception. That aside, when Lisle proudly blared that she was a college dropout, she provided me with an opportunity to attack what was, in any case, a very bad argument, as well as a hellishly unethical piece of pop pedagogy.

Further, there is a vast difference between someone shouting "fag, fag, fag" and Nick's refusal to accept Vera's self-characterization as a Russian immigrant who never studied, as some kind of defense mechanism against the claims he was making. His attack amounted to a denial of her right to hide behind the persona she crafted, and it mattered not at all whether or not that persona was true to life or utterly fictional; it did not excuse the failures of a published essay. Now between the homophobic blather of "fag, fag, fag" and Nick's "goat-milker" quip, you must see a difference. The former attack is just sheer idiocy dropping its mask. The latter is a rhetorical counter-thrust prompted by a rhetorical decision on Vera's part. I know you see the difference. It is the difference between hurtful stupidity and an ethical attack (see my previous definition of "ethical attack").

Having said all this, do I consider hostility to be the best way to resolve a dispute? No, I don't. But neither am I willing to characterize my fellow posters as a bunch of emotional cripples who cannot see for themselves that Nick's attacks follow a pattern, and to arm themselves accordingly. There are a lot of very smart and emotionally healthy people here. You seem to have no trouble exposing yourself to what could be a psychologically devastating attack by Nick. Why do you assume others here are not as stalwart?
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 03:46 pm:   

Neal;

I haven't been responding to many of your points because I didn't want to pull the discussion too far off course. However...

And once again, we're back to the galloping assumption that there simply must be some kind of "principled stance" suggested in Vera's essay. Upon what do you base this assumption? I see no evidence of the antirationalism you mentioned in an earlier post."

I'm not sure where you're getting the "must be" part of this. I'm saying that there is a principled stance in there somewhere. I'm not saying it's necessarily an antirational stance, either -- you've imported that from an earlier post.

The relevant part of Vera's essay is:

Maybe I am getting soft in my old age and I probably am but I no longer feel okay to put down anyone. Not even when they are terribly wrong according to my worldview.

Here is a perspective that has changed. Vera felt one way one time, and she feels a different way now. She is either striving toward a personal transformation or looking back from a changed perspective. Language is rationally derived -- it is a logical game. As such, it is very difficult to express anything non-rational, and special steps must be taken (Vera does not take those steps, but that doesn't mean they don't exist).

Although the literary mode here is not essay (I think that's been established), it still has a point.

Perhaps you and I are using different definitions of "principled stance." In your eyes, what is required for a stance to be principled?
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 04:25 pm:   

Robert, simply put, a principled stance proceeds from principles, from certain philosophical constants, as it were, which guide one's ethics. Those principles need not be expressed, but they should be discernable. Vera's shift of feelings from "it's okay to flame" to "it's somehow not okay to flame" may be predicated on Kant, or Peter Singer, or any of a number of other ethicists, or they may be wholly homespun, but I see no evidence in the essay to warrant such a conclusion. Instead, I read fatigue, not principle.

What we are given, as I've said, is a suggestion that hostility is bad (we are not told why), and that when it occurs, it should occur as a prelude to constructive continuation of discussion. And yet, the logic of the essay also perpetually forestalls conclusion, as I think I demonstrated early in this thread. So what's the point of discussion? To fill time? To occupy the commercial breaks between segments of a TV show? What are we doing, anyway? This isn't principle; it's the flat denial of principle.

It's been said (by whom I don't recall at this moment) that "It is better to discuss an issue without resolving it, than to resolve an issue without discussing it." I fully believe this. I've indicated as much on this thread and others. But Vera's approach, and an approach which is gaining favor among Americans in general, it seems to me, finds its culmination not only in an endless distancing of resolution, but also in an evacuation of discussion itself. Public discourse becomes another venue of light entertainment, and not a site where social organizations find their genesis. This is why people tell you it's impolite to discuss politics and religion in bars. The hell it is! The public house was one of the most powerful venues for social change prior to the twentieth century. Today, they're abbatoirs of alcoholism and meat markets for the mating game. Some improvement, huh?

Now, if I'm on a board like Night Shade, and I contribute to a thread concerning print accounts of strange animals or forgotten islands, I don't expect the skies to open and social harmony to rain down. But not everything is a pastime. And one need not be a professional or an expert to contribute to the polity. We've forgotten this, and we must get it back. WE govern the free world, not our leaders. If we abdicate our position out of apathy or distraction, then we deserve what we get, and it's not going to be pretty.

Now THAT is a principled stance.
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Anna T
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 05:33 pm:   

All,
I'm not going to bother to go back to get direct quotes, but when I said that norms change and standards are always shifting, I meant that not only in regards to eras, but also within societies. One illustration of that is the difference of standards in this thread concerning discussion itself, and what constitutes acceptable discourse.
The contributors here have demonstrated that we come from different sets of reference. What some of you think is discourse, I think of as gotchaism. What some think as acceptable behaviour others might see as cowardly attacks, cowardly because if the writers were to say those same things within punching range, they wouldn't be said.
If the answer to that is, "If you think this is rough, go to .... on the web where it is much worse," then that is only showing to this reader that there are other places where even worse (in my point of view) behaviour thrives, and where other people soothe their insecurity complexes by using their lives to attack.
I am not sorry for this thread, though. Great character showed through the messages. Thank you, Alice, for instance, for pointing out acceptable behaviour in an other venue.
In the case of the person who kindly pointed out that the word "elitism" isn't "eliticism" and said that that was what irritated (I'm not sure if I remember exactly, but whatever) and also dissed the essay beautifully succinctly, that person must have seen the difference between knowing what a word is (as the essay had it right, as did its link on my site) and a typo. But it must have felt so goooood to post this. Gotcha!
Goodonya! as is said here. Yes, you managed to hurt as it did embarrass me mightily, so in case you didn't realize it, I'll give you added satisfaction to know it still does.
But I took my punch and turned the other cheek.
And you know what?
Vera kissed it.
She knew it was my mistakes, yet she didn't want me to suffer, so immediately she jumped in and said it was her.
Laugh all you want.
That in itself makes this whole experience worth it.

I often think of people in terms of "I'd love to hike in the mountains with X" to share the joy of discovery. But this thread also brought out a side of me I don't care to develop. The one that urged me to say, "Come with me into the mountains for a gooood long really hard hike. Just a week. Just the two of us."
So, because I don't even respect that thought in myself, I don't consider that the standards that the majority who have posted on this thread think acceptable, and those of myself are common enough to have what I would call a civil discussion.




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AliceB
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 05:46 pm:   

Neal,

I can't keep up with your volume (which, by the way, is interesting), so I'll only address one issue. The kind "ethical attack" that you describe as occuring in a courtroom to attack a person's credibility is a form of cross-examination. The devastating attacks that you suggest are common, are not. They occasionally occur but are done with extreme care. Again, what you see on tv is not the norm.

The reason they occur rarely are multiple, but let me try to give a few reasons that might be germane here.

(1) Unless the jury or judge is already somewhat on your side, that kind of attack often badly backfires. The attacker comes across as a bully 9 times out of 10, and that is a heavy cost since you have to get the people who are making the decisions to agree with the rest of your case. People generally don't like to side with bullies.

(2) It's very hard to do it effectively. Remember what I said about the rigid discourse of a courtroom? Cross-examination is not as free-wheeling as courtroom dramas imply. You have to very carefully set up your opponent before attempting to knock him down. The best cross-examinations in fact don't do much knocking down as much as devastatingly setting the person up in a situation that no one can believe. The attorney brings in persuasive evidence elsewhere that what has been testified to is absurd and then sums up his or her arguments effectively in summation at the end. Most juries identify with witnesses (unless they are pathological), side with them, and don't like lawyers. Attacking the witness, again, doesn't bring them over to your side--and can frequently end up with a rebuke from the judge.

The taking down of rape witnesses as you described, is, in most states, prohibited. The whole point is not that the witness has a persona but has facts to relate. The person's credibility may be questioned by facts relating to the testimony in question--and only if you are dealing with the facts originally testified to. Except in the few cases where reputation is the fact at issue (such as in libel and slander cases) attorneys are generally prohibited from making character attacks. They may heap facts about the person, only if these facts are relevant and material to the case at issue, and only to the extent that they deal with facts of the case. You may not, as an attorney, call a witness a liar, or give your opinion about their character--you may only give the facts (artfully but truthfully, if you want to win).

In the case of an argument on a discussion board, these rules, of course do not apply. But I still maintain that going after someone's character--whether you dub it persona or not--is not productive. Both reasons (1) and (2) apply: the person's arguments are lost because he/she comes across as a bully, and people don't want to side with bullies; the attacks are ultimately not as effective as pointing out the flaws in the argument itself since people will identify with the person being attacked.

Best,
Alice

Best,
Alice
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AliceB
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 05:47 pm:   

Can't figure out why "Best, Alice" came out twice...
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 06:20 pm:   

Both reasons (1) and (2) apply: the person's arguments are lost because he/she comes across as a bully, and people don't want to side with bullies; the attacks are ultimately not as effective as pointing out the flaws in the argument itself since people will identify with the person being attacked.

It's worth noting that Anna makes the exact opposite argument, that "In fact, there seems to have been a bit of pack mentality, and people who would not want to have rings run around them would just stay out."

Either the "gotchaism" rhetoric around here is so incredibly convincing to the participants in this thread that it builds a wall that the rational cannot penetrate, or it is so ripe with ad hominems that nobody buys it. But it can't be both at once. Personally, both complaints read to me like a universalization of the personal.

And sure, people do have different limits as to what they can accept as legitimate rhetoric. Some folks find anything other than abject worship of their ideals and texts to be unacceptable, for example. Anna is doing precious little to prove that she isn't in this group.

As far as personal attacks on this thread, it isn't attacking Vera's character to point out that her appeals to her Old Country bumpkinism (when it is convenient for her to do so) were tedious. It isn't attacking Anna's character to point out that her nose-in-the-air pose is tiresome and contradictory. Simply put, these two statements:

"Eliticism, Criticism, and Constructive Venting of Opinion" by Vera Nazarian is the top feature on my newly launced site, in the part of the site called "The Virtuous Circle of Medlars". I think this piece would be great included in the curriculum for all would-be critics.

and

It's lovely that you're doing so well. But I don't understand why you are wasting so much time on a bad essay on an obscure page of an author who doesn't get paid as you do to write essays, when the piece doesn't even mention you (and I insist, doesn't *avoid* mentioning you. You are, with respect, hardly canonical), and in the complementary links below, continues not to mention anything about you. You were not an issue, a topic, or, I feel, an appropriate example in this essay.

Life's short. Go satisfy more readers.


...don't legtimately come out of the same mouth, on the same subject. The latter is just an arrogant, aristocratic dismissal, combined with an appeal to pity (the poor "obscure" author isn't nearly so inviting now that people are actually engaging the essay...).

Is it really "lovely" that I'm doing so well? I only mentioned my own sales of essays as a way of demonstrating some familiarity with the form. Anna apparently took it as an insult, and sniffed at whatever achievement selling essays may be with an aristo tut-tut dismissal in the same way that big money never seems to be quite so good as old money.

There are lots of social norms, some contradictory, informing this discussion. The simple, non-controversial, rules regarding rhetoric is one. Here's another: the social fact that only women are allowed to have hurt feelings, that such hurt feelings are always more legitimate than anything else that has occurred (including the hurt feelings of others) and that passive aggressive attacks cannot possibly exist.

Cookies, anyone?
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 07:36 am:   

Alice, your reasoning in the case of courtroom cross-examination sounds solid, so I'll bow to your experience there.

But I still maintain that going after someone's character--whether you dub it persona or not--is not productive.

Here, I think we're talking about slightly different things. No, attacking a rhetorical persona is not productive; it's not supposed to be. It's done to tear aside an obstruction. Many times, personae become red herrings, whether used this way consciously or not. They can be used to deflect, as when Patrick M. on "Revolution SF" characterized himself as a simpleton who didn't get big words; or they can be used to bolster a shaky position, as when someone brings up his own military background to legitimize an argument that attacking Iraq was good for America.

I'm not saying it's okay to savage people mercilessly. As I said, I don't think it's the best way to resolve disputes. But I don't think that's what Nick has been doing on this thread.
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AliceB
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 08:01 am:   

Neal, I see what you are saying but I find it unpleasant to watch someone tear away at someone else that way. The "red herring" you discuss is frequently interwoven with real personality characteristics, such as being in the military. To tear away at the persona also tears away at a real part of that person--and I cannot say how big or small a portion of that person it is. Not knowing that, I am loathe to do it, or watch it done, because it's not just clearing away deadwood, it's inflicting harm. I assume most people can see the red herrings and step around them, going after the arguments behind them. Joining in a discussion on a board shouldn't require someone to, figuratively, wear body armor.

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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 08:16 am:   

I assume most people can see the red herrings and step around them, going after the arguments behind them.

Interestingly, it seems you cannot.
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AliceB
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 08:29 am:   

Nicholas, I do not understand your meaning.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 10:13 am:   

I mean that you have ended up dissecting Nick Mamatas's character instead of dealing with his arguments.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 10:14 am:   

Alice, I know I'm not going to persuade you out of your tolerances or into mine. My only objection is to your willingness to spare all self-characterizations on the chance that some might be genuine and innocently offered, and on the assumption that "someone" is being torn away at. To me, that is over-cautious. I prefer to make case-by-case decisions whether or not to engage in attacks on self-characterization.

The appeal to ethos, whether positive or negative, is a strategy dating back at least as far as Aristotle, and it's a tool I think every participant in public discourse should hold at the ready, whether he or she is inclined to use it or not.

When I run across someone using his or her personal life to produce anecdotes which clarify a topic, I am inclined to take those anecdotes in the spirit in which they are offered. They do not obfuscate the issue or introduce false authority, but rather provide examples which make discussion more productive.

But when, for example, someone bashes online publication and then ducks behind the "I'm-just-an-old-geezer-who-remembers-the-good-old-days-and-I'll-never-change" persona, well, that person is going to get both barrels. Nor do I particularly care whether the person making the claim is eighty years old and trapped in an iron lung; he's employing crappy reasoning, and thus he makes himself a target.

A persona is not a persona is not a persona. They do different work in the argument, and should be regarded for the work they do, not who might be behind the mask, or how much the mask is like the face it covers. Personae can move things forward, or they can hold things back, and we should be prepared to react accordingly. That's really all I'm saying.
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AliceB
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 11:20 am:   

Neal, thank you for stating your position so clearly. You know mine. We'll agree to disagree?

Nicholas, I confess, I did not deal with Nick's arguments--but I was not (at least intentionally) dissecting his character. I did not deal with Nick's arguments because they were beside the point I was raising: he was addressing Anna and Vera's arguments in these posts; I was making a smaller point. That was: if people feel they are going to be attacked they generally will not post. Neal's responses, and our following conversation were about what is the nature of an attack and whether it should be used. We didn't agree, in the end, but I certainly have a better understanding of his point of view, and hopefully, he has a better understanding of mine.

Nick, I apologize if you felt left out of the loop. I will not discuss whether someone is being X or Y.

Best,
Alice
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 03:17 pm:   

That was: if people feel they are going to be attacked they generally will not post.

This certainly happens. However, people can feel that they will be attacked or even that they have been attacked when no such attack has taken place.

Example: Anna being hurt, and embarrassed "mightily" when Deborah said she found the typo irritating. I mean really, so what? Anna reads "gotcha" where it was clear to me that Deborah was just rolling her eyes because, unlike other typos we've all made (I sure make plenty) we get to see this "eliticism" atop our browser window whenever we visit the thread.

It's not a big deal. Not only did Anna feel that it was, she felt the need to enter the public sphere and howl about it.

That ain't because I'm so mean and nasty, or because Deborah or Nicholas or Neal or CA are pack animals. It's Anna's problem.

Nick, I apologize if you felt left out of the loop.

No need to apologize. Side conversations are side conversations.

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 03:51 pm:   

Hey, I didn't even notice the typo until someone else brought it up. And now that I know it's there, I can't say it really makes a gnat's pecker's worth of difference to me. In fact, I hope it doesn't make any difference to most other posters, either, because I just committed a typo in the first word of the "Wierd [sic -- very, very sic] Worldviews" thread I started, and I wouldn't mind some volume there. Gosh, I hope people aren't staying away from that one because of a typo. I'd feel much better if they were staying away because I bore the beans out of them.

On a more serious note, I've seen Nick savage people in plenty of threads. He certainly isn't the shy, retiring type. But in most cases (I can't think of an exception off the top of my head), I managed to read through those attacks to the point behind them. And in many cases, the attacks themselves made a damn good point. I would cite a few examples, but others here are quite capable of doing their own archival work, and many have been around a lot longer than I have. Most of the times I've seen Nick attack others, it's been after repeated attempts to make sense of a discussion, and repeated responses by the other party which resisted sense. Witness the recent public flaying of Patrick M. on the "Revolution SF" thread, for example.

Nick: "There is no evidence that no-pay sites become paying markets worthy of your work."
Pat: "Well, they could."
Nick: "But they don't. And there's no evidence, out of all the attempts, that they ever will."
Pat: "Hyul, hyul, well, they could."
Nick: "No, there have been X attempts and ZERO successes. No-pay is a bad market for a writer."
Pat: "I'm a silly idiot. But, um, they could."

Not direct quotes, mind you, but that's the drift.

People duck behind masks, they play the "Gorsh-I'm-just-a-dummy" routine, they wail like banshees when they are forced to the wall... In fact, in more cases than I can name, Nick's most publicly-hated attacks have come only after someone else has yelped "My Feelings are being hurt" ONLY after they have been left with no other option but to admit they are wrong, wrong, wrong. What makes people close their eyes when this happens?

Why do people tolerate this? Not just tolerate it. Christ, they condone it, they cuddle it, they feed it strained carrots! I don't get it.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 10:04 pm:   

For the record, Neal, that was "Revelations SF", not "Revolution SF". Revolution SF is a separate zine.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2004 - 04:07 am:   

You're right, Nicholas, and I am aware of the difference, which makes my error even worse. Don't know why I made that mistake (and more than once). Until you mentioned it, I hadn't even noticed I had typed "Revolution SF." Thanks for the correction.

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