29 September 2005

Philosophical Confession

A truly bizarre conclusion to an otherwise excellent review:

I will end this review with a confession. As I read these books, I often found myself persuaded on one or another point, and I could not help admiring the clarity and power of the presentation. Yet I also experienced a growing feeling of irritation and frustration, slipping at times into anger. Perhaps this review displays too much residual irritation, frustration, and even anger. I hope that it also conveys some of the ground for these feelings.
Actually, we wouldn't have guessed you were angry; we simply thought you cared about the truth.

Please, wait a day or two, edit if need be to remove lapses in courtesy, and then publish the critical review without sharing your feelings. If your anger is unjustified, confessing it cannot be a remedy, and if it is justified, then, that you confess it adds a fault where there was none.


Anonymous said...

This is tangential to your point, but I am perplexed by the not uncommon phenomenon of reviews which express the frustration of the reader who is unable to understand a book easily and yet has been led to believe that they ought to be able to understand virtually anything worth saying. This translates into the accusation that the author is somehow at fault for obfuscating and is generally expressed with a tone of exasperation and anger. First time philosophy students coming from certain other disciplines and analytic philosophers reading continental philosophy are the two instances most clearly in mind (though I remember a review of Benardete's Socrates Second Sailing in Anc. Phil.,, some years back that showed, it seemed to me, a particularly shameful irascibility.)

It may not be that anger is the sin here, but rather the inability to recognize one's own limits is something that, at least, with my students I hope to change--though analytic philosophers are another beast entirely :).

Anonymous said...

I don't think that's so bad, or even bad at all. It's often very difficult for readers of reviews to get a sense of just how serious the flaws attributed to the book are: the conventions of the medium, and of scholarly courtesy, tend to reduce everything to a mushy sameness. 'Despite the defects which I've just spent the whole review discussing, this book makes a valuable contribution to its topic.' Now *that's* unhelpful. In the case in question, another reviewer would have said: 'Historically sensitive readers will find this book incredibly annoying'; that would clearly be a legitimate and useful sort of thing to say, and this reviewer's use of the first person is, I think, only superficially different.