July 21st, 2011 / 2:08 pmRoxane Gay
I’m working on some longer things to post here over the next couple weeks but in the meantime:
At Slate, Robert Pinsky offers three rules for writing a book review.
Anil Dash writes about how to foster productive online communities on your website by managing comment threads.
Tags: Anil Dash, Book Reviews
Dash’s argument is rather naive, myopic, and short-sighted, and he’s not the first person to pretend like the Internet is somehow responsible for smuggling vitriol into popular discourse, or to overemphasize the Internet’s influence on communicative practices.
“Vitriol” is too often loosely-defined in many online communities, so that any comment with a hint or tinge of passion behind it is labeled “vitriolic” (often, by people in charge who disagree with the writer’s perspective) as if communicating online means people should become robots.
We also live in a country founded upon a document that says, “all men are created equal,” while the writers owned slaves. The mere and simple fact that “vitriol” is more readily transparent could actually be a good thing, not a bad thing, and the push to sanitize online discourse could have its own ulterior motives.
I think Pinsky’s “rules” become less effective-sounding when “what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about” is: nothing.
For example, in The Great Gatsby, what does Fitzgerald actually say about wealth or glamor or “hard malice” or “romantic readiness”? In his plays, where does Shakespeare say anything about sovereignty or language or grief or joy? In his dialogues, where does Plato say anything about anything?
When the text is ventriloquistic, or when something like irony reigns in it, the “author” doesn’t say much directly; what the reader has is what is said and the effect of what is said–and, at least sometimes, reference to the author’s point of view or even to “what th[at] author says about that thing the book is about” seem to me unfounded and unfoundable.
“Managing comment threads” – or any communities – is fine; whoever claims and maintains ownership, whether in a totalitarian way or hands-off or with whatever aggression in between, is already ‘moderating’ the content of the sandbox they ‘own’.
My discomfort with Dash’s quite-reasonable discussion – and with some of the comments he’s ‘moderated in’ – stems from an apparent assumption of a consensus of what “assholes” and “bullies” are. Even a brilliant individual reader of meaning and tone or a finely grained crowd-sourcing is going to mistake vigor for unkindness, or connected tangentiality for irrelevance, or so on.
(I was recently IP-banned from a conservative political site (that I’d gone to from here) for being “stupid and inflammatory”; after making factual arguments, I’d said things like ‘the soldiers in Iraq don’t realize whom they’re fighting for‘ and ‘conservatives hate America’. In that circle, empirically compelled progressive perspectives are automatically taken as “abusive”.)
I also think that it’s not so clear that “assholes” and “bullies” – when they’re fairly so named – are uniformly, in every case, and permanently destructive to a ‘healthy’ community.
The statement is poorly-worded and awkward. Should be: “what the book ‘says'” (insofar as what any book can “say”).
Perhaps he’s speaking as a poet working in a genre where author and text are often intertwined.
We agree on a lot today, deadgod.
These have been my experiences as well.
Over and over again, I have witnessed moderators–who are human, btw–misinterpret “vigor for unkindness,” especially when the vigor comes from someone with a minority opinion.
Dash should write an article on the prevalence of mobbing in online communities.
[I’m interested in the juxtaposition of unprofessional and poetically unintelligent abuse of Keats and “managing” conversation.
Should those Keats reviewers – or at least those reviews – have been filtered out of their periodicals before publication?
Let me ask it this way: does each person come with a troll filter, or do the filter-deficient need to be protected, or do communities deserve to opt in to censorship (limited only to their boundaries)?]
apologies in advance to Ms. Gay, for I find her presence a consistently interesting and thought provoking respite, however… 3 rules for writing a book review, then how to foster (control) “productive” online communities? Rules, rules, rules. Communities form around morays and ethics and codes (this site is no different) and if open internet sites (page markups on public networks) wish to be gated “communities” where everybody is “just like us” and contributing “productively” (read: academically) then setup a closed read only subscription site and have your circle jerk of mutual affirmation and see what happens to your clicks. The internet is not like a bar or newspaper, but more like public transportation, where any crazy can wander in and vent abusive tirades at any moment (present company included). The internet is more like the real world that I am convinced many people never experience, replete with hatred, vitriol, pain and struggle, along with the thoughtful and carefully considered no-offense-at-any time discussions that Mr. Dash wishes to enforce, who will decide like some bonehead god who is in or out, who is an asshole, yes verily, but you own nothing but your own opinion just like anyone else, prig
No need to apologize. I simply posted two things I found interesting. The book review article, in particular, interested me because I often think about what is most important in a book review and I thought the three rules he discussed are a useful starting point for reviewing if you’re feeling at a loss for how to begin a conversation about a book. As for Dash’s post, people conflate moderation with censorship. They are not the same things in many cases. Yes, the Internet is like the real world because it is populated by people who live in the real world but sometimes the real world sucks and some of the nonsense in online communities shouldn’t be okay. The unchecked racism, for example, on news sites, where people hurl racial epithets anonymously, without the nutsack to own their words, shouldn’t be allowed. It’s one thing to voice disagreement and another thing to spout bullshit. I understand why some people rail against the idea of community moderation (it’s pretty impossible to implement fairly) but I do think there are benefits.
Apologies accepted, yea verily, by the epithet-hurling community post factum.
The only things that form around “morays”, yea verily, are eel squeals.
Communities form around
mores, belief, conduct, conscience, convention, conventionalities, criteria, decency, ethic, ethos, goodness, honesty, honor, ideal, imperative, integrity, moral code, morality, natural law, nature, practice, principles, standard, standards, value
do I get a B for making a clear point, despite spelling funetiklee in a comment?
I think my frost point was we have already seen this trajectory everywhere and it’s only starting on the internet:
free speech -> moderated speech -> censored speech -> illegal speech
The haters should be free to indict themselves without effecting our sensitivity and offense, we shouldn’t give them that power, we can repress speech, but the hatred remains, sunshine is the best disinfectant.
You also see–as in Dash’s article–the lumping together of vastly different kinds of posts/posters in vastly different contexts under the same implied umbrella.
So, a person who posts racial epithets on a Youtube video about someone’s dog taking a dump in the toilet is somehow related to people who get a little too heated on a political blog.
It’s easier to shut up the second person if you can convince others that he’s like the Youtube commenter.
I do not know how anyone can continue to take seriously three rules for discussing a book which each contain the word “about”. It is Pinsky’s job to justify that to us, but instead he tries to duck the charge of insufficient argumentation by pretending that he charge he must defend himself against is one of obviousness. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.
He’s still wrong.
Rules for reviews make as much sense as rules for novels. Or rules for conversations about books.