Internet Graffiti and Its Discontents

So, a friend sent this link to me. Clicking on the link, I discovered yet another one of these rather predictable lists listing so-called overrated writers, and when I read its title: “5 Overrated Writers,” I thought immediately of an article that appeared at Huffington Post, last year, an article which unsurprisingly inspired the list I was looking at, of which I thought, mirroring my thoughts about that catalyzing essay after I’d first encountered it, how it struck me as a post primed to prompt page views and commentary.

The original article had been hard for me to swallow. How do you get past Shivani’s rather uncooked analysis of the contemporary climate of  literary criticism? There aren’t any outspoken “major critics with wide reach”? He suggests that poststructuralist theorists have been responsible for the displacement of what he’s calling “humanist” critics. Where’s the evidence for this? The idea of a deconstructionist cabal dominating the academy is so threadbare that anyone can see right through it. The burden of proof of its existence, however, is on Shivani.

But this post is not intended as an in-depth critique of Shivani’s article, but a critique of Jason Jordan’s post, a post which amounts to little more than a piggybacking on an already tired idea, a post that is an anemic version of what inspired it, a post amounting to what I’m calling “internet graffiti,” that is, content that people throw up, much like those comments scrawled on bathroom walls and stalls, content that offers little to no substantial critique, content that does, however, have some consequences, namely, seemingly opening up a door for some dialogue, but really only giving people an opportunity to trash talk as well. But there are also some other consequences, which I’ll address later.

So let’s take a look at what Jordan has to say. First of all, he doesn’t define what he means by the word “overrated,” which is sloppy enough; suggesting that we all know what he means when he says it, since we’ve all gone to high school, where at least twenty times a day you would hear, “Oh, that’s so overrated.” But overrated by whom or what? Well, answering that is not important in Jordan’s post, because the key thing is to get to the trash talk as quickly as possible. He then writes that he only chose to write about five writers because he “feel[s] like fifteen is too many.” His other criteria? “To be a writer eligible for inclusion, he or she must have published at least one book, and I have to have read at least one of them.”

He proceeds to dismiss Lydia Davis’s Varieties of Disturbance with “winning” critiques, like, “I don’t remember much of this book—thank God—but I remember enough to know that I hated it”; and “Most of the stories were boring…”

Brian Evenson’s The Wavering Knife “just didn’t do it” for Jordan. Exactly what Jordan wanted “done” is never defined. There were stories that he “wholeheartedly enjoyed,” but doesn’t describe why. He hated a number of stories because “the characters are such pricks to one another.” I can only imagine how many other stories get dismissed by Jordan because of their characters’ cruelty.

Jordan makes a massive assumption about readers when he says that Michael Kimball’s Dear Everybody “is the story of…a character you won’t give a shit about.” Why won’t you care about this character? “Well, you won’t, that’s why,” Jordan seems to say. So, there! After this, we do get some insight, however small, about why he didn’t like the book. Did he even finish the book after he found out “when, where, and how [Bender] commits suicide”?  This remains unclear, because Jordan provides no further details about the contents of the book. He doesn’t examine anything really about the book, or about any of the other books on this list, for that matter.

His description of Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land is also cliché-ridden: “felt forced”; “but maybe that’s a good thing”; “I’m inclined to agree.”

Regarding Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way, he writes: “It’s been a long time since I read Stories…, but I do remember hating it. Enough said.” No, Jason Jordan, this isn’t enough. Not even close. You’ve given us weak analysis. You’ve given us lazy writing. You’ve trash talked with nothing to show for it but the foam still bubbling from your mouth. And there are consequences.

So what do I expect from a blog by a writer and editor anyway? I expect more: I expect insight, criticism, and rigor. I expect writing that is clear and free of clichés. I expect for unliked books to be given fair treatment. Tell me, specifically, why you didn’t like the book. But instead I was blasted in the face with blogorrhea.

And what are those consequences, Jason Jordan? Well, for one, I don’t trust what you have to say about books, which, in turn, makes me think I should not trust you at all, all of which will have the likely result in my never reading anything you write and edit.

79 thoughts on “Internet Graffiti and Its Discontents

  1. John,

    Jason didn’t find the books that great, he posted about it. Good for him. I think you’re response, while cogent, goes way overboard on the analysis. No doubt your closer readings of the “5” would earn higher marks in a literary theory course, but the attack on the spirit of Jason’s post (and the snipe on Shivani…it’s a well-written article, whether you agree with his opinions or not) makes me wonder if you see any substantive purpose for “negative” criticism.

    Books that strike the reader in the wrong way usually don’t elicit passion. They bore & they’re put down. They’re not closely read. It’s a mental drain to pay close attention. Jason’s not writing reviews for The New Yorker, he’s not getting paid, it’s just a blog.

    Caleb

    • Thanks, Caleb.

      It’s funny that you would say that you “wonder if [I] see any substantive purpose for “negative” criticism,” when the whole thrust of my post here, and my comments at Jordan’s site is negative criticism of a shoddily written post.

      You obviously have an ax to grind regarding a certain atmosphere that privileges positive reviews over negative reviews. While this is certainly true of some venues, its hardly characteristic of all book review outlets.

      I’ll quote from what I said in my response to you at Jason Jordan’s site:

      I’m not saying that Jason should stop saying what he’s saying. But with his smug, summary dismissals; his cliches; his lack of real critical insight, it all amounts to little more than noise. Hey, make as much noise as you want, but don’t expect me to take your noise seriously.

      By extension of your argument, Caleb, I could have just said, “Jason, your review sucks,” and could walk away feeling like me job was done. Instead, I took apart most of what was weak about his critique. This is what it means to be fair.

      What Jason wrote can hardly be considered a review. These are little more than written shrugs.

      There’s value in criticism, criticism that is well-considered and well-written. I am not questioning Jason’s negative assessment of these books. What I am questioning is its fairness, a quality which is sorely lacking in his post. He does not provide anything of substance. I expect more from a writer and editor.

      By the way, I enjoy reading well-written criticism that may be antithetical to what I might be thinking. This isn’t what Jason provided at all. I didn’t get any real insight into the so-called failures of those books.

      What you’re missing here, Caleb, is that I’m addressing Jordan’s weak writing, his thin analysis, his unimaginative idea for a post, not his negative assessment. His assessment is shoddy. I don’t get a sense at all of what he found negative about the books. As I said before, I enjoy multiple perspectives on books, and I enjoy reading well-written content whose assessment differs from my own.

      And you’re right about my giving Jordan’s post more attention than it deserves. It is, after all, a slapdash affair. Almost all noise.

      I’ve never thought of a blog being “just a blog,” as you do. Why should the quality of a writer’s writing about writing decrease depending on its context? Why should the level your attentiveness, rigor, craft, fairness, etc., shift according to whether you’re getting paid for it or not?

      Jason Jordan is a writer and editor. I hold him to a different standard than someone blathering on in a Goodbleeds or an Amazonian post.

      I’m repeating myself.

    • “…it’s just a blog.”

      Caleb,

      It seems to me this not a reasonable excuse. Blogs are not private. What I write at Big Other (people constantly call it a blog, though I like to think of it as an arts website) I take very seriously, even if I’m writing about something I don’t take seriously, preferring the satire thick rather than thin.

      Anyone who takes shots (without explication-“I do remember hating it” doesn’t cut it) at people who have long studied the craft of writing and have wrote to a modicum of success for years should be prepared for blow back.

      Why shouldn’t we be more careful with what we write? Robert D. Kaplan, politics aside, said our bodies are removed from the violence we put out by writing disparaging things on the internet. One click and a stream of bile is released, hurtful to many within seconds. In the old days, the sword had to be wielded with the hands. Then newspapers, but there was more oversight. I’d hope we’d have more responsibility with the power to post and reach thousands of people a day.

  2. I’d imagine that Jordan and Shivani’s lists have this in common: They were both intended to incite.

    In this regard they’ve been highly effective, and, actually, your posting about the post calls attention to Jordan and legitimizes his list.

    I like your comparison of the blog post to graffiti, but why do assume graffiti to be all bad?

    I like graffiti sometimes. It can be highly effective. I once met a girlfriend by dialing a number that had been written on the door of a bathroom stall. I liked her a whole lot. She showed me a “good time.”

    I wonder, would you have had such an issue with the list if it was just as cliched, just as light on details, yet positive?

    Would it still be graffiti?

    • Hi, Brian.

      Oh, I’m aware of that by criticizing Jordan’s post I run the risk of “legitimiz[ing] his list.” At the same time, I have this nagging sense that “silence is the voice of complicity.”

      As I mentioned in my response to Roxane’s comment, I don’t have a problem with graffiti, per se, just sloppy examples. His graffiti is not a “piece,” that is, not a masterpiece, but a “throw-up,” the kind you usually find in a bathroom wall or stall.

      As for whether I “would you have had such an issue with the list if it was just as cliched, just as light on details, yet positive,” my answer is no. I can’t stand cliched and poorly executed writing, especially when it comes from writers and editors.

      • Honestly, John, most times I’m all about what you’re laying down. And I don’t know Jordan at all. I do know Shivani, and that fucker’s legit. He’s a pain in the ass some, but he’s legit as all hell, lives off writing reviews and articles, and is a solid fictioneer in his own right. I’ve thought highly of a great bit of what you’ve written. I remember being floored by your first editorial letter when you signed on with JMWW. But, I think that what Jason did was fine, and I think that expecting all things to be quantified/qualified is irrational. It was early when you posted this. It hadn’t breathed in you yet. I do that shit a ton. Especially if I haven’t had enough sleep. You make valid points, but a blog is a thought we think toward other people. You can’t really take that to task, I don’t think. It’s gotta be a smidge off limits. I don’t know, that’s just my opinion of it.

  3. Right, like, if someone writes, “Jesus loves you,” on a bathroom stall, is it the same as when someone writes “Suck a cock for Satan’s sake?”

    • Since my comment at Dark Sky is “awaiting moderation,” let me also post my comment here:
      Actually, both can be done, and have been done. I haven’t said that “You’re Only Allowed To Dislike Something If You Spend A Lot Of Time Explaining Why You Dislike It.” This is not a question of free speech or censorship. I criticized the content of Jordan’s commentary, not his right to say it.

  4. Good points all. Yeah, I have a slight bias, positive reviews usually are less interesting than negative…maybe it relates to my own writing. I don’t believe praise, and if ten people like something I write and one person doesn’t I’ll spend far more time considering the latter. I trust negative/constructive criticism.

    Jason should expect a “hostile reaction”, but even Coetzee, who’s at the apex of writers “who have long studied the craft of writing and have wrote to a modicum of success for years should be prepared for blow back.” Would that I were Lydia Davis…she should be honored that her writing (praised much) every now and then merits a half-ass dismissal.

    To Greg’s point, yes, when I write my own blog posts it’s my own, and I take it seriously, even if it’s only read by family and friends.

    I think Jason’s been around enough that he knew what might happen, maybe he wanted to incite, I wonder what he’d say.

  5. The funny thing about the five writers, to me, is that none of them are mega famous as far as I know. Unless I live in a different world. I mean–I can see picking on someone who is selling millions of copies (Franzen for example), but Brian Evenson?

    The only criteria is that the person must have published a book. Being published and being ‘over-rated’ seem like two different things.

    Maybe the list should be ‘Five books I didn’t like’.

    The real question is, (in all respect) why should we care?

    • Brendan,

      I think we should care (and obviously we do because well considered criticism [and the shoddy as well-Shivani’s piece at the Huff post–my own criticism of that forthcoming] sends views skyrocketing) because the issue is much more respectfulness and however loony it sounds “care of the soul” – our collective soul, how we interact with people.

      As Hallmark says, “Little things mean a lot” and this is a little thing that leads to bigger things. Whatever the merits of the writers, they spent years working on the books cited and to just take a swipe at the pieces on the board, knocking them to the floor, is poor way of dealing with projects that have been worked on and worked over for a long time.

      It’s also not like Jason just wrote this in a corner of the internet world and didn’t promote it, it was linked on facebook – so it was proffered to people to read, much as a solicitor pushes his or her wares.

      • Thanks Greg,

        I actually meant, why should we care about Jason’s opinions, not John’s counter-post.

        I do agree with what you say.

        I think the real key to why the original post is annoying is calling what are probably sort of mid-list writers over-rated, without any explanation or insight into how this determination was reached. Seems like a post deliberately put there to piss people off and create controversy.

        There are lots of books I don’t like, but I wouldn’t publicly ridicule them. Also, I think putting the pictures of the authors sort of reminded me of those god-awful hit lists the anti-abortion folks put out. Just bad taste.

  6. The most interesting (surprising?) thing about Jason’s post was that he decided these authors were overrated after reading only one (or in one case, two) of their books — it’s this, more than the lazy criticism, that makes me distrust his assessments. The whole idea of knocking down ‘overrated’ authors is ridiculous — basing that assessment on one or two books that Jordan seems to barely remember makes it even more so. Perhaps if the post had been titled – ‘Five books I really didn’t like that other people seem to like’ without any commentary?

  7. I find this reaction where everyone’s jumping all over Jason’s shit for having an unpopular opinion absolutely appalling. He is not writing for a major outlet where there is an expected standard of critical inquiry. He’s expressing personal opinions on his blog unlike Shivani who expressed his ill thought out critiques on one of the most highly trafficked websites in the world. You cannot hold Jason’s post up to the standard of providing justifications for his opinions that are up to some imaginary standard of eloquence and excellence on his own, personal blog. I don’t agree with anything Jason said but I absolutely support his right to say, “I don’t like these writers,” however he chooses to express those sentiments. This feels like an excoriation. You believe the five writers he discusses are great writers. That’s an entirely valid opinion but just because you think they are great writers does not mean they are beyond reproach or that people can’t express dissenting opinions. When did greatness come to mean that we all had to fall in line?

    • Thanks, Roxane.

      I don’t see how I “jump[ed] all over Jason’s shit,” or even what that means, exactly, and it is this kind of lack of precision that I’m addressing about Jordan’s post. That said, I am not critiquing him for an unpopular opinion, just for the way in which he expressed those thoughts. Yes, Jordan “express[ed]” his “personal opinions on his blog unlike Shivani who expressed his ill thought out critiques on one of the most highly trafficked websites in the world.” This is obvious. I don’t see why the venue in which one expresses one’s thoughts determines the amount of scrutiny that it receives. And why can’t I “hold Jason’s post up to the standard of providing justifications for his opinions that are up to some imaginary standard of eloquence and excellence”? When it comes to writing, why should there be a question of a “standard of eloquence and excellence”? Why not hold writers and editors accountable for what they say and how they say it, whether they say it in passing in a bar or on a blog or publish it in their blockbuster memoir or wherever?

      Has anyone here questioned Jason’s right to say, “‘I don’t like these writers,’ however he chooses to express those sentiments”? Jason has a right this. He has a right to say just about anything. But this is not a question of his right to free speech. This is not a question of censorship.

      And it would be silly to argue against the idea that “just because you think [the writer’s Jordan are criticizing] are great writers does not mean they are beyond reproach or that people can’t express dissenting opinions.” I certainly don’t think anyone is beyond reproach. That should be clear from my post. Jason Jordan is not beyond reproach. When did whatever it is about Jason that you consider worth protecting “come to mean that we all had to fall in line?”

      So, considering that you don’t have a problem with Jordan’s takedown of five writers (and for the record, and at the risk of repeating myself ad nauseam, neither do I, rather I have a problem with how it was expressed), why do you have a problem with my criticism of the way in which he took those writers down?

      • John, I simply feel that your post has a real sort “You’re not doing it right,” vibe. I just don’t feel, oh I don’t know…

        And there’s nothing imprecise about the phrase “jumping all over someone’s shit.” Just because you’re not familiar with the phrase does not render it imprecise. It feels like you want everyone to communicate in a way you deem appropriate. It’s not that your criticizing Jason’s critique that bothers me, but that you seem to have a problem with people who don’t communicate in certain ways. Ultimately, it’s that you have a problem with graffiti whether it is an ineloquent blog post or the use of slang, that I am having a hard time with. We are indeed all entitled to our opinions.

        • Hi, Roxane.

          Actually, I’m more than familiar with the phrase. I just don’t see how it applies to anything I’ve written about Jordan’s post.

          I don’t have a problem with slang, or with any form of colloquial speech. In fact, I love it. I just have a problem understanding what, exactly, about my post merited your saying I was “jumping all over Jason’s shit.”

          I don’t have a problem with graffiti. In fact, I love graffiti, especially when it is dynamically rendered. In graffiti parlance, rather than a “piece,” what Jordan made was a “throw-up,” and a poorly executed one at that.

          Yes, I have a problem with imprecision. Yes, I have a problem with poorly considered and executed writing. Yes, I have a problem with an ineloquent blog post.

          What’s your problem with that, Roxane?

      • “Why not hold writers and editors accountable for what they say and how they say it, whether they say it in passing in a bar or on a blog or publish it in their blockbuster memoir or wherever?”

        Actually I think this happens all the time.

        • Yes, it does, Greg. Why should Jordan be free from accountability for the quality of the writing of his content?

          Is it because what he wrote was on a blog? Is it because he’s the editor-in-chief of an online literary magazine, which caters to a particular community?

    • Roxane,

      If you were on that list, if the sentence had been, “It’s been a long time since I read Roxane’s stories…, but I do remember hating [them]. Enough said.” – Do you think you’d say the same thing?

      Of course anybody can say anything on the internet, they have that right, but responders or critics to what a person puts out have those same rights.

      • Greg, people criticize me all the time. It sucks and I hate it but it is their right. I would have bitched about it to my friends and moved on. I also don’t think the writers on this list need defending. They’re all reasonably successful and excellent writers. I doubt this would even show up on their radar. As I said, I disagree with Jason’s opinions but I respect that he bothered to actually express opinions. And yes, critics have the right to criticize criticism but something about all this feels off and that is simply my opinion which you are welcome to disregard, ignore, or disagree with.

  8. I agree with Roxane. Jason can write whatever he wants on his personal blog. It’s tantamount to posting on facebook or twitter, and if people happen to find the remarks caustic or reactionary, then job well done, Jason, for stirring the guts of an often all too complacent community that ass-kisses entirely too much.

    • Thanks, Mel.

      Of course, “Jason can write whatever he wants on his personal blog.” I haven’t questioned his right to write. And yes, I agree that what he wrote was “tantamount to posting on facebook or twitter,” in the sense that it didn’t seem like much thought was given to his responses to the works that he’d read of those five writers.

      I don’t see how Jordan “stirr[ed] the guts of an often all too complacent community that ass-kisses entirely too much.” But if this is the kind of thing you like to see, why do you have a problem with me addressing that another kind of complacency, that is, this the notion that you can say whatever you want, however you want, wherever you want, without the care of getting scrutinized for it? There’s a lot of coddling everywhere. And I did just the opposite by addressing the sloppiness of Jordan’s takedown.

      It is not that Jordan’s writeup was “caustic or reactionary” which concerned me, but that it was so poorly considered and executed. I don’t see why he should be applauded for it, or why he should be free from criticism of his criticism.

      • Hey, John.

        “I don’t see why he should be applauded for it, or why he should be free from criticism of his criticism.”

        Why shouldn’t he be applauded for it? He pushed a few keys and inspired this conversation. Kind of brilliant, actually. I’m sure he’s sitting back enjoying all of this, silently rubbing his whiskers.

        And as far your work here goes, if that’s how you’d like to spend your day, criticizing criticism, then go for it. I applaud your efforts and passion, I truly do, but my bullshit detector works pretty well on its own when I’m clicking around e-land.

        I’m off to do laundry. Be good.

        M

        • Hi, Mel.

          Brilliant, no, well, at least not for me. As for what Jordan’s response might be, who can really say? If he’s “sitting back enjoying all of this, silently rubbing his whiskers,” then he’s worse off than I’d imagined.

          Actually, there aren’t enough bullshit detectors around “e-land,” and this is also, and perhaps especially true in some corners of the so-called indie lit community, where the circumference of the circle jerks seems to be getting ever wider.

          • “Actually, there aren’t enough bullshit detectors around “e-land””

            Well, actually, there are, and they’re installed, hopefully, at an any age in each and every one of us. I like to call my bullshit detector “common sense.”

            Some people lack it, most people don’t. I’d like to believe that anyway.

            It seems, to me, that you’re determined to hold some kind self-appointed “quality control” position, John, and if things aren’t up to your standards, well, then,

            “And what are those consequences, Jason Jordan? Well, for one, I don’t trust what you have to say about books, which, in turn, makes me think I should not trust you at all, all of which will have the likely result in my never reading anything you write and edit.”

            Which is all well and good, John, it’s your prerogative, but it seems a little hasty to me, not to mention kind of silly. I’m not going to blackball Jason Jordan because he didn’t give me sufficient evidence (which would be entirely subjective anyway) as to why he thought a handful of writers were overrated.

            Some things are simply beyond our control, but what we can do is make our own determinations about what we’ll swallow and what we won’t. I’m not entirely sure a reaction post was necessary in this case. There was no need to sound the alarm or loose the hounds. But it happened, it’s here, and now it’s time to move on.

            We’re all big people, capable of independent thought.

  9. I didn’t get that John’s criticism of Jordan’s post had anything to do with falling in line or ass-kissing. John’s response read to me as a reaction to what he perceived to be lazy or poor criticism. Granted, it’s ‘just a blog’, but that doesn’t make it immune from criticism. He posted it publicly, after all, and John read it, and had a reaction to it. I think it’s entirely fair.

    I don’t have any investment in defending the writers that Jordan mentions, but I think a much more compelling argument for why these writers are overrated would have been interesting – at least, to me. The post really amounts to one of taste – not of ‘overrated’ – he doesn’t make any case for that. All Jordan really says is ‘these books didn’t appeal to me’ – which isn’t very interesting. But, it’s his blog – I’m not saying he shouldn’t have the space to say whatever he wants in whatever fashion, but it’s still fair to talk about it.

  10. True. It’s all fair to talk about. But to what end? What am I supposed to learn here? That people disagree? That Jason wrote a poorly supported blog post about writers he thinks are overrated? Who gives a shit?

    What’s next, tearing apart incendiary tweets? C’mon.

    • Mel,

      I think what we are learning is that people have feelings.

      As I said above, a lot of people give a shit because when this breaks out views skyrocket. Jason should be applauded for starting this conversation because it is a conversation that needs to happen.

      I throw out snap judgments often and I need to catch myself.

  11. John’s post is just a blog post too, but his shit still seems to be being jumped on. I thought that is why most people wrote blog posts, to ellicit response?

  12. Leave him alone and go write/edit something worth reading instead of blogs and social media. A list: how terrible? Who gives a shit. Neither idiopathic anger nor meritorious wounded egos make literary dreams come true. History will judge who were the best a hundred years after their deaths…

    • Well, what determines worth, Matthew? Lists can be useful and even powerful things. Jordan’s list, however, was just a poorly written one.

      I don’t see history in the way that you seem to see it, that is, I think of history as a construct, and this construct is mediated by all kinds of factors, including criticism.

  13. Sr. John Madera,

    I think that is how he spells his name; though the pronunciation alludes me. Living your dreams in ethereal paradise and making a great living writing in your early 20s determines worth, getting a multimillion dollar advance determines worth, being penniless determines worth, living in the struggle determines worth, starving for days determines worth, being beautiful and brilliant determines worth, being ugly as a beast determines worth, winning in the long run determines worth, blowing up before you’re too old to do so determines worth, not being a hater and a failed artist/author afraid of controversy determines worth, not blogging with the other failures determines worth. Don’t comment me back ever again, and go become more worthy of our time please. I don’t have time for this meaningless bullshit and not going to check it again. This blog post was also very poorly written by the way. Great to know you see history in such a construct light. The critics always last centuries. Solomon Don Dunce is huge today. Sure. Look at how F. Scott Fitzgerald died. Look at him 71 years later. Look at how Poe died. Look at him 161 years later. Look at Hunter S. Thompson in another 94 years. Gracias amigo. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  14. This thread puts me in mind of a conversation over brunch with Lydia Davis, some eighteen or nineteen years ago (can it really have been that long? I’m feeling old here…), in which she began to rail against writers she felt were overrated. Strangely, it was a young writer named Jason Jordan who had most raised her ire. Lydia, from my recollection of our talk, felt that Jordan was both a hack and hick (yes, she went for an uncharacteristically low blow in attacking Jordan’s southern Indiana origins).

    By turns, my brunch conversation with Lydia Davis became spiteful, vengeful, and even sublime. Lydia believed Jordan’s stories and drawings were unfairly being displayed higher on the Christian school classroom walls than were his classmates’, and she took issue with Jordan’s emphasis on domestic cats in both the above. To be frank, I had not heard of Jordan nor read his work, and that remains the case today, but without Lydia’s devastating critique of this promising young author, who’s to say? He may have become one of those writers nearest my heart.

    My response here is not intended to downplay the concerns raised by Jason Jordan or the other posters, but more to speak to the fact that I know Lydia Davis quite personally, and often take brunch at her home.

  15. It’s been said many times in this discussion, but I will repeat that there is no single definition or purpose of a blog or what a person — even a writer — may express therein. If you seek thorough book reviews, look for actual book reviews. This is an instance of Jason expressing his opinion about some books he didn’t like.

    Do you not see that there is an issue of context here? Have you read Jason’s blog beyond that post? I have. It is generally quite conversational, and its subject matter tends toward things he likes, such as cats, heavy metal music, other books and music, and certain TV shows. In a recent post, Jason described what he likes about South Park. I say this, not to critique Jason at all, but to suggest that, in the context of HIS use of his blog, to which he is entitled, regardless of whether he is a writer or editor, he did not post his list to incite or to inspire a scathing personal attack on a much more public “blog” or “website.” He wanted to say some things about some books he didn’t like. I wonder if the accusation that he was not thorough or thoughtful in his reviews does not apply to the reviewer(s) of Jason’s blog post, perhaps even more so.

    Many writers have blogs that veer from the subject of writing. Like them or not. Read them or not. But don’t hold these blogs to some literary standard to which you choose to subscribe. And the idea that editors should be held to an even higher standard? Your higher standard? Many editors, including me, should probably dismantle our blogs at once.

    I find your opinions about the content of one post on one writer’s personal blog troubling. I find your explanations/excuses/collateral attacks troubling. And I find your conclusion beyond troubling.

    “And what are those consequences, Jason Jordan? Well, for one, I don’t trust what you have to say about books, which, in turn, makes me think I should not trust you at all, all of which will have the likely result in my never reading anything you write and edit.”

    A more logical reaction might be: I did not like your post and do not plan to read your blog again. Yet you extrapolated your dislike of several hundred words he wrote to the end result of dismissing him as an untrustworthy person, and unworthy writer and editor? I am puzzled by your sense of entitled judgment, and truly hope that the judgment you receive in response displays greater depth and kindness.

    • Hi, Lauren.

      Yes, I agree that “there is no single definition or purpose of a blog or what a person — even a writer — may express therein.” I would never argue otherwise. What people throw up on their blog is their business. And what I put up on this blog is my business, too. But part of this business includes having to deal with any criticism my posts may engender.

      I’ve decided to critique a blog by a writer and editor. I blogged about a blog. Apparently, for you, Lauren, this is inappropriate. Why the double standard?

      And yes, I did read some more of his posts. Would my post have been more persuasive for you if I’d dismantled other things I’d found on it?

      You seem to be privy to Jordan’s motivations. How you can be sure that the posting of his list wasn’t meant to incite or to inspire a scathing personal attack”? From the tenor of Jordan’s responses to this post, here and on Facebook, it would seem to suggest otherwise, well, at least to me.

      Note that I’m responding to criticism (in a substantive manner, I hope) about my post, here and wherever it’s been popping up. Has Jordan done that? Of course he doesn’t have to respond substantively, or respond at all, to anything I’ve written. But the ways in which he’s responded so far only raise more doubts about him and his writing.

      I haven’t said that he doesn’t have the right “to say some things about some books he didn’t like.” People can say what they wish about books. You say that you “wonder if the accusation that he was not thorough or thoughtful in his reviews does not apply to the reviewer(s) of Jason’s blog post, perhaps even more so.” Let’s say this is true (and this would be a huge concession for me, especially in comparison to Jordan’s threadbare post). So Jason is allowed to not be thorough or thoughtful, but someone who criticizes that post is not allowed the same courtesy? Why the double standard? As for me, I’d rather have both the instigative post and the response to be a well-considered things.

      You write:
      “Many writers have blogs that veer from the subject of writing. Like them or not. Read them or not. But don’t hold these blogs to some literary standard to which you choose to subscribe. And the idea that editors should be held to an even higher standard? Your higher standard? Many editors, including me, should probably dismantle our blogs at once”

      Using the word “don’t,” as you did in the above snippet, seems rather bossy to me. Why should I follow your prescription? What standard are you holding up for me to follow? Yes, many writers have “blogs that veer from the subject of writing.” I’m very much aware of this, and the ones I enjoy reading offer greater insight into the thinking of those writers. And what’s great about those selfsame blogs is that quality of the writing hasn’t diminished, neither has the quality of their thinking, no matter the subject or the relative informality of the context.

      What’s puzzling to me is that you’re bothered by my dismissing Jordan as a writer and editor based on a single post, and yet you’re not puzzled by Jordan’s dismissals of writers, based, in most cases, on a single book, those dismissals amounting to little more than a bunch of sour nothings.

      Based on what I’ve read of Jonah’s writing, I think it’s fair for me to say that “I don’t trust what [Jordan has] to say about books, which, in turn, makes me think I should not trust you at all, all of which will have the likely result in my never reading anything you write and edit.” Trust is something you build. And, it must be noted that what I said is that my reading Jordan’s post, and the concomitant suspicion it caused, will have the likely result in my never reading anything he writes and edits. There’s a window there in my use of “likely.” Thus far, I haven’t seen anything from Jordan that makes me want to read anything else by him. I haven’t seen anything, thus far, that demonstrates that Jordan is a writer whose work I should be interested in pursuing any further. If he shoddily criticizes these five writers, five writers who can write circles around most writers, then I think I’m justified in thinking that it’s unlikely that anything else he’s written will measure up to the work of those writers.

      • Thanks for the response, John. Can’t respond at length at present, but look forward to addressing your numerous misinterpretations based on partial quotes, and judgments about my character. Your approach doesn’t seem to be working in your favor, but I admire your consistency.

  16. I realized that the link through my name to my own blog was incorrect. It’s properly linked now. My last post includes a picture of me with my cat. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t like it.

  17. “I should not trust you at all, all of which will have the likely result in my never reading anything you write and edit.”

    Actually you will, John: you’re doing it right now.

    This post written and edited by Jason Jordan.

    • Yes, and the quality of your comments here demonstrate just how bright is the brilliance that Mel was talking about when he was referring to the quality of your post.

      So far, you’ve written a shoddy post, and, in relation to this, you’ve written a shoddy Facebook update, and offered shoddy comments here.

      How about some substantive comments? That might actually be interesting.

  18. Well, I agree Jordan’s post was not terribly substantive, and if he wanted to persuade anyone he is correct about his picks, he simply hasn’t done a very good job of it. It was more like venting than a careful literary critique. But he is entitled to his opinion, and for those of us who disagree, it might be best to go on with our day. I think it was Rousseau who said if you want to kill an idea, ignore it. I never would have heard of Jason Jordan or his blog post without this article in response.

    Since it’s too late to backtrack, both writers (Shivani being the other) have a couple of good picks–even if for the wrong reasons. I for one am glad someone *finally* called out a few of these authors, e.g. Jhumpa Lahiri. Frankly, although I think several of these writers are absolute shit, I have to keep my mouth shut because at this point, they can directly and seriously damage any career I’d like to have as a writer. And I realize I’ve now grown a tail; while I more often feel like the Tin Man, I’ve clearly become the Cowardly Lion.

    Along these lines, it’s worth noting that Paul West wrote, over the course of his career, a book dismantling writers whom he felt were grossly overrated (I forgot the title). It’s a sort of Devil’s Dictionary of well-known authors, but he also refuses to see it into print. Apparently it will be published posthumously. I for one am looking forward to it.

    • Yes, his post “was not terribly substantive, and if he wanted to persuade anyone he is correct about his picks, he simply hasn’t done a very good job of it.” And yes, his post was “more like venting than a careful literary critique.” Yes, Jordan’s entitled to his opinion. And, I agree that in most cases it’s best to ignore such asinine writing. And sure, sometimes the best thing to do “if you want to kill an idea,” is to “ignore it,” but this can’t be true of every idea. There are ideas that can only be killed by killing it. There are just too many examples of dangerous ideas that were allowed to fester, resulting in all kinds of mayhem. Jordan’s post is nothing in comparison, of course. And sure, Jordan has received some free publicity because of my post. Nevertheless, while succès de scandale is a kind of truism, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be negative consequences.

      Actually, this notion of whether an idea can be killed is an intriguing one, and I’m not sure if it’s possible, or if it is possible, whether we should even want ideas to be killed. The realization of some ideas should be killed, maybe. Ideas are ideas, that is, things without any real substance, it’s usually when they become something else, turned into some kind of material or actualized as an event, that they end up having the most power. Then again, there are ideas that do all kinds of internal damage, whether actualized as an external event or not.

      I agree that there are writers who need to be called out. And this, in fact, is just what I’ve done: I’ve called out a writer for his sloppy writing.

      Let me repeat that I don’t have a problem with Jordan’s negative appraisal but with its shoddy execution.

      That book by Paul West sounds interesting, and considering the caliber of his writing, I suspect it will be a worthwhile read. A pity we have to wait until West dies to read it. Looking forward to it almost seems like looking forward to his passing, and I shudder at the thought.

  19. it doesnt take courage to call someone an asshole over the internet johnny cakes. i wasnt even referring to your big other post, i dont even read it and i dont know anyone but your own contributors and their friends who do. but i guess if it matters that much too you. this post is ridiculous and you’re ann asshole for posting it. if people wanna say something sucks then why do they have to spend time justifying it or qualifying it. books suck. movies suck. lots of shit sucks. so what. just because something doesnt meet the john madera criteria for critiquing doesnt mean people arent interested in hearing it. if you arent interested then close your gaoddam ears, dont piggyback off of his post.

    • So, for the sake of clarity, let me note that Barry left this comment on Jordan’s wall on Facebook about half an hour ago:
      “man, i read all the comments about your list. what a bunch of assholes. what happened to the good old days where you could just say something fucking sucks and you dont have to spend an hour qualifying it or justifying it.”

      I responded with this: “Hey, Barry. Why don’t you post this at Big Other? So much for courage of convictions.”

      This comment was left half an hour ago, so I assumed Barry meant my post here, considering the comments here are all about Jordan’s list. So perhaps Barry was talking about Jordan’s site where the original list appears, or perhaps he’s talking about some other list entirely.

      Barry, I’d apologize if it was clear that I misunderstood what you were talking about. But your comment here makes me think that you’re not being forthright.

      So, what list were you originally talking about, Barry?

      But this is besides the point since you’ve now called me an asshole. What have I done to merit your abusive language?

      It’s ironic to me the way you criticize me for criticizing someone else’s criticism.

      Of course people may say “something sucks” without having “to spend time justifying it or qualifying it.” This is what most people do. Using your logic, why can’t I be allowed to substantively say that what Jordan wrote “sucks”?

        • Hi, Tracy. Well, I provided it for the sake of context, otherwise Barry’s comment would seem to come out of nowhere. I called him out on Facebook, and he called me out here but without providing context. Would it have made more sense to paraphrase the comment that Barry had made, which prompted me to respond to him, which, in turn, prompted his comment here?

          If Barry wants me to take down the quote, I will.

          If I’ve crossed some lines by posting Barry’s Facebook comment calling me, and others, an asshole, well, then I apologize.

          Seems to me that calling someone an asshole is crossing some lines. But to each his or her own.

  20. A cordial salute to everyone, from a latecomer. My own perspective on the thread above no doubt is tinted with rose-colored glasses, the very cross I bear is rose-colored, but I must say, I find it heartening that a few writers who set relatively steep challenges, on or near the cutting edge — & who aren’t that widely read, no — that these writers stir up such intense feelings, & such a cascade of response. I find that heartening. The upshot is, literature even its crankier & more esoteric modes still gets thinking people worked up.

    Jordan’s complaints do lack for development, argument, but they seem to me to reflect a natural pattern in the consideration of more challenging, non-narrative fictional forms. I mean that such stuff, for every few additional readers, every bit of additional exposure, must endure a backlash. Certainly an earlier generation of American Postmodernists, roughly those who came to prominence in the 8 or 10 years starting with John Barth’s THE SOT-WEED FACTOR (1960), suffered the same kind of dismissive smackdown. In Jordan’s blog (some elements of which I agree with) that’s more or less what we’ve got — an early 21st-C smackdown of contemporary alternatives in fiction.

    Here’s a story. One of my most difficult review assignments was for Brian Evenson’s ’06 novel, THE OPEN CURTAIN. I’d recently discovered his stories, & I’d found some of them, some, excellent alt-horror, with religious elements that added an extra, thoughtful shiver. But the novel — that gave me a number of problems. My response appeared in American Book Review early in ’07, & it can be tracked down.

    Basically, my critique is of social realism that’s inadequately realized. Evenson himself declares, in his statement following the novel, that he was trying for a more straightforward, “respectful” approach to his Mormon Utah. Any reader can see, I would think, that the book’s after a fuller verisimilitude than Evenson had explored before (in WAVERING KNIFE, or the fascinating DARK PROPERTY), & in that regard the story often falls down. In particular the love interest, bereaved but plucky young Lyndi, suffers from the manipulative nature of the Gran Guignol.

    So that’s what I felt I had to say, & I said it. Meanwhile, though, as most of you know, CURTAIN was getting praised to the skies. I was particularly puzzled by the review in The Believer, which had just the opposite problem from Jordan’s complaint — it called Evenson something like the most exciting writer around, but didn’t say why. I braced for blowback.

    Evenson himself reads ABR, to be sure, & early in ’07 he had no trouble finding the review. He must’ve read it right away, in fact, because shortly after it appeared the two of us were in touch (email touch; we’re not friends by any means) for the first time. He went out of his way for me, of all things — he gave a lovely blurb to my ’07 novel, EARTHQUAKE I.D. He’s responded thoughtfully to other writing of mine as well.

    Seems to me there’s a lesson to be learned, there. But then, of course, I’ve got my rose-colored cross to bear.

    • Thanks, John. The lesson I’ve learned here, and actually it’s not a lesson, but something like a confirmation, is that a thoughtful response, a well-rendered critique, whether a negative or positive one, is what a worthy writer offers, regardless of the format in which it appears. If your review of Evenson’s book had been something as asinine as what Jordan wrote, I doubt you and Evenson would have had any kind of real dialogue.

      Let’s take a look at this paragraph of yours:

      Basically, my critique is of social realism that’s inadequately realized. Evenson himself declares, in his statement following the novel, that he was trying for a more straightforward, “respectful” approach to his Mormon Utah. Any reader can see, I would think, that the book’s after a fuller verisimilitude than Evenson had explored before (in WAVERING KNIFE, or the fascinating DARK PROPERTY), & in that regard the story often falls down. In particular the love interest, bereaved but plucky young Lyndi, suffers from the manipulative nature of the Gran Guignol.

      If Jordan’s appraisal had been written in a similar manner, that is, if he had contextualized his criticism, offered substantive thoughts on why he thought the books he trashes failed, then I wouldn’t have written a post focusng on the shoddiness of his delivery, not its negative appraisal. I might instead have actually discussed the books with him, shared how I agreed or disagreed with him. I might have been curious to see what else he had written. His post did exactly the opposite. He shut down my curiosity of anything he might happen to say.

      When you say Jordan’s post is “an early 21st-C smackdown of contemporary alternatives in fiction,” I’d have to say that I disagree. “Smackdown,” no, as it hardly reaches the force of a finger tap.

  21. i was originally referring to jason jordan’s blog post and the shitty comments. i dont understand why you even responded to the post? did i even mention the name john madera or big other? of course i didnt.

    i’m not criticizing you about critizing anyone. i dont care what you said to whom and when and why. i called you an asshole because you tried calling me out on a facebook comment thread, and yeah, people who do that are assholes.

    • Well, Barry I left comments on Jordan’s post, so you were calling me an asshole then, and you’re calling me an asshole now.

      Thanks for the clarity.

      I think I have a right to call out somebody who calls me an asshole on Facebook and here at Big Other.

  22. yes, you certainly do. thats why im not sure what the problem is… i guess thats my point in the first place. people can feel free to say what they want and call out anyone they want and they dont owe anyone an exp[laination.

  23. There’s a post on Jordan’s facebook page, written five hours ago, that says his fb/blog account was hacked, and that he didn’t write the original post, so I’m more than a little confused by all of this – have you guys not seen that, or do you dispute it? Is is denial a joke I’m not in on?

  24. Barry, I think it helps if we talk about why something “sucks”; otherwise it’s basically just blather or perhaps sour grapes, and it’s likely to be incendiary with no real constructive value. And I don’t see the need, given the mess of a world we live in (look at North Africa now, where I actually have a few friends & am worried) to add to the mess, to the destructive content as it were. If a writer is no good, let us critique him or her and show as objectively as possibel why we don’t like the work or why it is inferior. Because the truth is, every bad book buries every good book a little deeper. And that is indeed a shame.

    • Vince, c’mon, North Africa? Why haven’t you dropped everything and gone? Hey, suffering is real & important, but your letter is a “Stop your blathering & think about important issues just like I do” preach. A moral placebo…what’s your point? It seems you were just looking for an excuse to boast about how you “care” about N. Africa & your friends, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the topic.

      Hey, I’m with you on the fucked-up world crisises. They are way more important than, really, our lives of relative comfort and our minor debates, but c’mon…Vince, why not post on every blog in the world and tell them to drop everything and think about Vince’s moral vision? Go on, Vince, you might not save the world, but you’ll feel better about yourself.

  25. Brendan Connell, in a few comments above, really puts his finger on the supreme bad taste of posting the author’s pictures; I thought the same exact thing. And has anyone mentioned the links to Wikipedia entries in the cases where authors didn’t have websites? It’s just a really bizarre post.

    I was mulling over some of the comments that said things like “criticizing this is like criticizing a tweet,” which I don’t agree with — a tweet seems more like a casual comment, no? Like something someone might say at a cocktail reception, right? We’ve all heard this kind of stuff: “so-and-so is a dickhead,” “I don’t see why _______ is such a big deal.”

    I’m wondering out loud if John would have responded to the post if it were just a small paragraph without links and pictures…a simple numerical list expressing “personal opinions.” But going through the effort to post links and book cover images and author photos — that doesn’t seem so casual to me…

  26. Why must every essay or blot post that posits an unpopular opinion or alternative aesthetic be greeted with tar, feathers, and pitchforks? Can we not find some common point of civil disagreement or try to comprehend why Author A doesn’t work with Reader B? Surely we’re better than the Tea Party.

    I’m appalled that so many people desire for a unilateral consensus, either pro or con, in relation to Jason’s post. That kind of bland ideological matchup is about as exciting as faded corduroy. For what it’s worth, I agree with Jason on one of the writers and think he’s absolutely wrong about three of them. Do I want to punch him the face? Absolutely not. Will I dismiss his opinion in the future? Absolutely not. Because part of being human is learning to disagree with people. It’s not as if Jason is some obnoxious Yankees fan who dared to walk into a bar loaded with Mets fans and shit on their parade. The readers came to HIS space. Those of you who lack curiosity about Jason’s viewpoints and who wish to impugn him have only yourself to blame.

    • Hi Ed,

      Based on how Jordan expressed his dislike of those books, I definitely have a lack of curiosity about what Jordan might have to say in the future about books or just about anything else. I wouldn’t blame myself, however, for having a lack of curiosity about what Jordan might have to say. I’ll certainly take responsibility for my decision, which was based on Jordan’s having shown that he might not have much, of substance, to say about books. If he would have fleshed out his ideas to demonstrate where the books he hated went awry, I might have found myself interested in what he might have to say about books, or about anything else, in the future. He didn’t and doesn’t have to do any of this, of course. He didn’t and doesn’t have to flesh out his ideas. But if he wants me to care about what he thinks about books, or whatever else, then he would have to develop his ideas beyond his slapdash dishing out. I think I have a right to think that, and I have a right to write about it. It hardly needs to be said that Jordan can write whatever he wants, however he wants, on his blog. I haven’t suggested that he stop what he’s doing. But based on what I’ve seen, I don’t see why I should care to read anything further from him. Who knows? It might be my loss. But I doubt it.

      And yes, I went to “HIS space.” Yes, it was his blog, but does this mean that what he wrote there shouldn’t have been criticized?

      You know, just before reading your comment, I was in the middle of rereading Samuel Delany’s About Writing. Speaking of curiosity, although I’ve already read Delany’s book, and have nibbled at bits of it, off and on, over the course of a few years, I’m still curious about what he’s going to say next about writing and about books, and about the continuum in which they cavort and collide. I wish he kept a blog.

  27. I wonder if looking at something visually might help.

    I see the original post as tantamount to this scene in L’Avventura by Antonioni. It’s a wordless scene, beginning at 4:17. The older man is an architect himself, though he never was able to realize his dreams.

  28. Pingback: PANK Blog / If you don’t have anything nice to say…

  29. Pingback: What matters is that we talk about what matters. « It's Between a Fish and a Dog

    • Usually, that’s true. But not always. Baxter’s statement assumes there is no such thing as a “boring” book. There is, and it’s not always the reader’s “poverty of equipment” that invalidates the conclusion.

      I think there is a difference in saying “that book is boring” vs. “I was bored by that book.”

      • He’s talking about the classics though.

        William Gass, in A Temple of Texts, quotes Arnold Bennett as well, the book is LITERARY TASTE: “your taste has to pass before the bar of the classics. That is the point. If you differ with a classic, it is you who are wrong, and not the book.”

        Strong words, but I think we need them to cut through all the bullshit.

        Yes there is a difference in those two phrases.

        • Strong words, indeed, but they ascribe religious certainty to the notion of a “classic.”

          Consider a parallel syllogism: “If you differ with Christian teachings, it is you who are wrong, not the Bible.”

          My agnosticism goes outside theological questions, but I usually defer to conventional views regarding the classics, and question my own ignorance when I do not quite understand or find worthy an oft-praised work. In these cases I stay silent.

          • How do they ascribe religious certainty? Just because there are damning words?

            But consider what a Pueblo chief said to Carl Jung in Memories, Dreams and Reflections: “See,” Ochwiay Biano said, “how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, thier faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they are mad.”

            More strong words. Doesn’t the spirtual sense outstrip the ‘religious’ here and in the quotes above. One can say these men are just talking big, being judgemental and exclusionary. That might be truth, but I think if we let our systems break down as in “Everything is okay, all is permissible,” we have the mess that seems to be infecting things today. Someone has to stand up against someone taking a shit on classics. They are the bad cops, I guess.

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