Saturday, June 24, 2006

quis custodiet...

or the domino effect of the power of opinion.

I’m not unaware of the importance of peer-related opinion. You can’t study for a literature degree without it banging you over the head after about five minutes of studying the courses.

All the many –isms of literary critical thinking have developed to a stage where plurality is just a nice word for saying that there are many diverse opinions about what and how we should think of texts that we have read.

My preferred method for reading texts is to stuff the critics and read the book (but drag the critics back in when it comes to writing the assignment and getting a better mark!), which may just be me missing the point, as I usually do.

In this case, I’m tying together some received opinions that, (a) Heart of Darkness - J. Conrad should not be read any more as a text for studying, because of the objections to racist content, and that, (b) the old debate between the ‘establishment’ and the ‘proles,’ has come to blogging and internet technology /usage.

This second debate sparked over An Army of Davids: Glenn Reynolds non-fiction account of what most people in the blogosphere who have a clue know already. That blogging serves as an instant way of getting around the big-gun opinion factories, and that you could possibly make money out of said insta-pinion while you’re at it. Reynolds has his own blog Instapundit, which amply demonstrates the point. Two separate reviews of his book demonstrate how the argument is developing into those who do appreciate the wider implications, and those who don't.

Why am I tying these two received wisdoms together? Because as someone relatively removed from the US sphere and the Euro sphere (trust me it’s an island), I don’t like to take things too far – whether Conrad set out to be racist or not, isn’t the point – the novel presents characters. Those characters are given words, actions, an opinion etc. by the writer, but that does not mean that those characters or narrators are expressing the opinion of the writer per se. You can only argue at the best of times, what a writer may have meant – but you can’t ultimately prove it.

As for Reynold’s Army of Davids being "trashed by Rosen?" Well, everyone knows how good infamy can be in generating sales for books – Ginsberg’s Howl being a case in point. In Reynold’s case the peers judging the judging demonstrate nicely the domino effect (I include myself ironically in that comment also). Reynolds doesn’t seem too bothered by the slating – he knows what he’s worth.

What the important point is, is to note that Reynolds is an advocate of what might be paraphrased as the rights of the many to use the power of blogging, for whatever needs that it may fulfil. Petrona's blog shows a far more considered response to this idea, than I am capable of.

By the time the dust settles on this one possibly Reynolds book will be already out of date, since the pace of internet business development is so fast.

And the word for the day is: bloviate – to discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner.


Rob Mackenzie said...

I don't know whether Conrad set out to be racist either, but I suspect the thought never crossed his mind. What's considered racist today wouldn't necessarily have been considered racist then. Attitudes have changed markedly.
I wonder which contemporary books that are considered great, liberal works will find their way onto the academic curriculum, only to be condemned as (whatever)-ist in the future.

Dan said...

The 'power of opinion' is related in some part to 'gatekeepers' who are in position to control the flow of information and hand out favors. Reynolds touts using the internet to open up numerous alternate information flows, empowering the many, and in the process, immensely irritating the gatekeepers. While print and broadcast journalists are examples of gatekeepers losing influence, your academic gatekeepers can still successfully crack the whip over you. But having the keys is only part of their power. I came to your blog originally from this discussion
in which the opinion is expressed that no matter how large an audience a blog may have, blogging is tantamount to vanity publishing and doesn't supply the satisfaction of being approved by a real publisher who may manage to sell a dozen print copies of one's work. The gatekeepers love such thinking and will always retain some power as long as it persists.
In my long-gone youth my love of reading attracted me to academic literature. Ten minutes into my first class, I realized I couldn't put up with the games. Good luck to you.
I sent an email to Instapundit about your blog entry. Hope you don't suffer an 'Instalanche.'

bb said...

The implication is that we can only read books that mirror current opinion, and sweep all else under the carpet. When ( as you imply) a writer is both an individual and reflective of a wider contemporary discourse of their time. Such important issues raised in this post that I'm sure we'll all keep going back to them!