by Johannes Goransson on Dec.10, 2013
Read a somewhat interesting little piece on “Smarm” at the Gawker, in which the writer, Tom Scocca, identifies “smarm” as a feature of contemporary literary culture:
Stand against snark, and you are standing with everything decent. And who doesn’t want to be decent? The snarkers don’t, it seems. Or at least they (let’s be honest: we) don’t want to be decent on those terms.
Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself. For a guiding principle of 21st century literary criticism, BuzzFeed’s Fitzgerald turned to the moral and intellectual teachings of Walt Disney, in the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
I think this guy makes a good argument. In the past on this very web site I have talked about how anybody with an other point of view is immediately identified with “hate” or even violence (for example, see my discussion of the reaction to Seth Oelbaum as the extreme example of this). And that’s why I keep quoting this little nugget of wisdom from everybody’s favorite troll, Zizek:
Today’s liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the Other is just fine, but only insofar as his presence is not intrusive, insofar as this other is not really other… In a strict homology with the paradoxical structure of the previous chapter’s chocolate laxative, tolerance coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the Other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his intolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society is the right not to be harassed, which is a right to remain at a safe distance from others.
This kind of dynamic comes up in discussion for/against what people call “negative reviewing”. It seems nobody wants to write anything critical in poetry reviews; the instance you do, it becomes a “negative review”.
I would much prefer to be negatively reviewed than not to be reviewed at all! In fact reviews that dares to be critical or negative are often very provocative and interesting. I remember when someone at Coldfront wrote a negative review of my book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place: it spawned a lot of good discussion on this blog, including the blog post in which Joyelle coined the phrase “ambience violence”
There’s something far worse going on when reviewers or editors make value judgments but do cloaks them in some positivity schtick. When they choose not to review, or not to mention, writers they don’t like, editors and reviewers are not being critical but also erasing different perspectives. The result is not just the erasure of different views but also a literary discussion that is boring and stranglingly conflict-less and calm.
This is why I am always urging people to write reviews that includes writers they don’t like or perspectives they feel are wrong. I’m really tired but I wanted to point this out today or I think I may never get around to it.