But since this topic seems to have raised its hoary head again, might as well provide a few links and a brief take. First up is a post on Floor to Ceiling Books. Amanda Rutter received a critique of her review of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon that is unflattering of her abilities as a literary critic to say the least. In my brief comment there, I noted that a reviewer, amateur or professional alike, has to have faith in his/her abilities to engage with the work and to write a review that reflects the degree and kind of their engagement.
However, there is a second side to this coin, one that is a bit uncomfortable for us to consider at least, lest we lose confidence in our abilities to do whatever task we may want to do, in this particular case reviewing books. What if we are failing to engage with a work as well as we could? What if we are too quick to snap decisions and are not willing to listen to counterarguments?
I see a little bit of discussion has sprung up recently over what Gavin Pugh posted recently on the "death of SF." When I first read his post about a week ago, I shrugged and thought "it's a bit too generalized even for a rant and doesn't have much to support his arguments." Then I saw the reactions to it on VanderMeer's blog and thought, "OK, I guess I wasn't the only one," before I proceeded to have fun with something of an off-color nature, since I didn't think there was much more to say. Now I see there has been some actual debate on the issue between Jeff and Gavin. And I'm left thinking, "What the hell is being argued now? That one can hold an opinion unsupported by evidence and that one shouldn't be called out on it?"
Everyone has the right to hold opinions, even those who have some truly dangerous opinions in my view (violent, psychopathic opinions that bear an imminent risk of physical harm being my definition of "dangerous" here, lest some fear that I've become overnight a cryptofascist!) But at the same point, having an opinion, strong or weak or indifferent, does not give that opinion holder shelter from others' skepticism. If someone, say Gavin in this situation since I'm linking to this particular discussion but this can apply and has in the past to myself, has an opinion unsupported by evidence and that person is called out upon it, it might not be the best of ideas to say something like this:
My interest is in healthy science fiction not in a history lesson… and that doesn’t mean I have explored SF. A lively SF should be a willing to mix the old and the new and be prepared to have people that see it differently.It sounds rather petulant, especially since I didn't see anything in the original response to warrant such a retort. If, for example, I wanted to argue that SF fiction was declining in importance, I probably would want to show evidence for my opinion (print run drops, shift in balance to "fantasy" books - not that I believe these show anything other than transformations in the SF market). The hyperbole of "being initiated into the cult of SF and tested on its canon" is rather ridiculous here. Sometimes, the blogger has to provide evidence that s/he is well-grounded in what s/he is trying to argue or else just be silent for a spell and try to listen to the points another is making.
The reason for taking an extreme is the attitude that you’ve shown. A fan of SF isn’t allowed to have a casual interest in SF – you have to be initinated into the cult of SF and be tested on it’s canon.
I know I am often mistaken in some of my assertions. This happens even when I try to provide evidence to back up my points. I learned quickly during my days as an undergrad that even with evidence, there are going to be points of criticism raised. These are not to be feared or something to ruin your day, but rather, depending on how well that detractor makes his/her points, a learning (or teachable) moment. One worry I have in my blogging is that I don't receive enough critical feedback. Too often there's either silence or overly effusive praise, praise that I distrust due to having this sense that there's always an angle that I missed, downplayed too much, or just misinterpreted. Never a bad idea to think that there are always holes in the argument and that if you yourself cannot find it, perhaps someone else will and that will be presented in a way conducive to learning.
That's not to say that unfounded criticism ought to be considered at length. Sometimes, there are some oddball responses that make one go "buh?" But for those rare critiques that offer some helpful suggestions, it might just be best to shut yo trap and just listen for a bit before questioning it all again.