Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Addendum on reviews

After the two posts (see here and here) I dedicated to reviews, it came to my mind that I had recently read some quite frank reviews of books.
One of them is by Amod Lele and analyses the hidden claims in Donald S. Lopez, Jr.,'s Buddhism and Science. A Guide for the Perplexed. I would not subscribe to what seems to me the key claim of the review, that is, that —pace Lopez— Buddhism and Science are compatible and must be so. However, the review is well-argumented and, though not agressive, it is not timid. Here is the link to the review. Readers might be interested to have a look also at the comments to the post, since they highlight the risks implied in the hard work of writing "true" reviews.
The other frank review I recently read has been written by Jayarava and is about Vishvapani Blomfield's Gautama Buddha. I have suggested to the reviewer that some of his criticisms might be off-mark, since they regard the reviewer's interests and not the author's and the readers' ones. But, again, the review is honest, frankly put and accurate until the details.

Interestingly, both reviews have been published on blogs. Moreover, they have been published by authors who do not seem to aim at an academic position.
Does it mean that, once again, the Academia depends for its needs on external volunteers? In fact, reviews are not accessory to the quality of the scientific production. If I were Lopez or Blomfield, I would be grateful to my reviewer and would strive for further suggestions to improve my work (but I might a bit extreme in that…).

Here and here are the two posts on reviews. As for the general problem of the amount of external support the Reserach needs in order to survive, see here.


Jayarava said...

I accept your suggestions, of course, but in my defence I was sent a free copy of the book specifically to review, by Vishvapani via his publisher. So I was in a dilemma. I did admit that I was unlikely to be part of the intended audience, and tried to bridge the gap between what I saw as faults and the virtues the intended audience might enjoy. But I also see part of my role as educating the intended audience to be more discerning.

I didn't really enjoy writing the review, and I'd be hesitant to write another for someone I knew. I haven't heard back from Vishvapani though I did write to him beforehand to warn him. I like and admire him, and hopefully I haven't hurt his feelings too much.

With my own book coming out soon I'm not sure I want to read ANY reviews!

elisa freschi said...

Dear Jayarava,

do you really mean that you don't want to read any reviews? Then, please forgive my somehow "harsh" review of your review. I did not mean to be cruel, I just wanted to highlight the fact that I appreciated your review's style, not just its content. Personally, I agree with your points, since I am pedantic and intellectually-oriented. And since I share your point: one should not only satisfy the audience, but also educate it. More in general, I could repeat what I wrote already in your blog, i.e., a more effective way is to show that also in order to achieve one's purpose, one should better be more accurate.

As for me, I think I deeply like being criticised, if the criticisms are not ad personam but regard my work. I always learn a lot. Hence, I look forward to read any criticism of you!

michael reidy said...

I have always felt about diacritics and various ways of rendering Sanskrit that they are not needed by those that can follow them and for those that can’t follow them, pointless. Books written for that fabulous beast, the intelligent general reader, have to strike a balance between sound information and scholarly parsing. There can be a little of the latter where the point at issue is substantive and germane to core concerns. It so to speak adds a little scholarly flourish that assures the reader that the author knows that whereof he writes.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Michael,
I assume you refer to the book by Vishvapani Blomfield. I am not sure I agree with your point. It happened more than often to me that I have been irritated by the lack of diacritics in a book because I was trapped mid-way. For instance, this happens with Tibetan terms, since my Tibetan is not sound enough to make me infer what could hide beyond a "wrong" transcription and I do not know how to look for a term/a proper name on dictionaries, etc.
Moreover, what about the purpose of educating your audience?
Last, let me add something you (as an English Native Speaker, lucky you!) might not be aware of. Terms without diacritics are usually just terms written according to their English transcriptions, e.g., Poona. These are NOT easier for a non-English speaking reader! By no means! "oo" is not easier than "ū"! Same with "c" written instead of "s". Italians speak, because they read English transcriptions instead of scientific ones of "cingalesi", (read "tchingalese") for the inhabitants of Ceylon. Or of "bunglov" (read "boonglove"), due to the "bungalow" rendering of "bangla".

michael reidy said...

the transliterations go according to english phonetics, that's true plus I'm lucky enough to have hung around India so I've heard the sort of thing like bajan pronounced bujan, shheewa for Siva and lowe for love. I accept your point,
best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Quote, "…it may be that modern readers rebel against the notion that the Pali canon contains these passages because they would prefer to imagine that the Buddha had (supernatural) foreknowledge of things that science was later to discover. This kind of anachronistic scientism is a perennial pattern of popular religion. It arises in almost every creed, with or without any doctrinal basis; it appeals to the imagination because it seems to confirm the supernatural origins of the religion by pointing to knowledge of natural science in ancient texts, and acclaiming this knowledge as "impossible". The idea that the Buddhist canon contained all the "modern wisdom" of theoretical physics and ecology was in fashion when I was an undergraduate (and seemed laughable to me at the time); it seems to have gone out of vogue, whereas similar notions about Buddhism and psychotherapy still seem to be in business. End quote.
Source: http://a-bas-le-ciel.blogspot.ca/2012/05/causality-and-canonicity.html

elisa freschi said...

Dear Anonymous reader,
I am not completely sure why you dropped this comment here. In fact, it very much suits the context of a later post, namely http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com/2012/05/saints-rebirth-and-belief.html). I agree with your general claim and still cannot understand why one should look for convalidation coming from a different field. Contemporary Western psycotherapy, to name your example, is not the normative paradigm against which everything has to be weighted…

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