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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reviews and personal attacks

What makes the difference between a fair negative review and a personal attack? In my opinion, the non-related material. If I am reading a review about the book X, I do not want to read anything related to the personal background of the author of X, nor about her career, friends, family, etc. This additional information might be interesting, but is not in itself part of the review of X and –if it is added to the review– it makes it into a personal attack. If you have something negative to say about X, just say it. Do not undermine it by making it look like a personal attack against its author.

Other indicators of a personal attack as different from a review?
Addendum: Until now, I never had the pleasure of reading a review of a work of mine on a journal. However, I have read negative and positive peer reviews of my projects and suggested articles. Plus, I wrote several reviews myself. I hope no author thought I was personally attacking her.

I have dedicated some posts to reviews. You can read one (with further links) here

7 comments:

Dominik Wujastyk said...

Hooray, a chance to recommend one of my favourite essays on reviewing: C S Lewis, "At the Fringe of Language" in his _Studies in Words_.

https://dl.dropbox.com/u/2372616/Lewis_At%20The%20Fringe%20of%20Language_1960.pdf

elisa freschi said...

thanks Dominik! Interesting and enjoyable! To be recommended to all reviewers.

अश्वमित्रः said...

LOMFL. (Though it may be that in the context of an old-fashioned English boys' school, amare and flagellare go together better than the old headmaster might have been willing to admit.)

"One of my old headmasters once wisely said it was a pity that
amare was the first Latin verb we all learn. He thought this
led to an imperfect grasp of the difference between the
active and the passive voice. It might be better to begin
with flagellare. The difference between flogging and being
flogged would come home to the business and bosoms of
schoolboys far more effectively than that of loving and
being loved."

अश्वमित्रः said...

"And in particular, when words of abuse have hurting the enemy as their direct and only object, they do not hurt him much."

Really? Good heavens, what's wrong with me then?

elisa freschi said...

@Aśvamitra,
I suppose that Lewis' point is that abusive words which says nothing beside the fact that they are abusive hurt less than words which still have a meaning. We know plenty of them in Italian (what identifies a "stronzo"? hardly anything at all), and some in English ("bitch"). It hurts more when someone tells you what is wrong with you specifically. Isn't it?

अश्वमित्रः said...

I somehow find unfocussed gratuitous abuse very hurtful while reasoned and detailed criticism, however harsh, is rather inspiring, so long as it's really on the mark. What unfocussed abuse and off-the-mark criticism have in common is injustice: I guess that's what really hurts and exasperates.

nOe said...

The day before yesterday I received an email that really hurt. The author is a person I greatly admire and he reacted to some comments of mine on his article by saying that I read it too rushly and misunderstood it and that my historical method is unsound. Since all three criticisms somehow hit the mark (I am often too rapid and I am not an historian), they hurt more than if he had only written to me "You are a bitch". In the latter case, I would have just thought that he dislikes me for his own reasons, which have nothing to do with me. Are you so different?

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