How to review stuff

Tim Carmody at Snarkmarket wrote a thoughtful essay on reviewing books, movies, and other works in the new-media environment. In a nutshell, he points out how swarms of reviews posted at Amazon (for example) can have competing objectives, centering on what he labels immanence versus transcendence.1

immanence n.
The “thingy-ness” of an artwork, its physical form as we experience it. Examples: As digital media proliferate, a book might be experienced as a weighty hardcover, a Kindle file, a set of Google Books snippets, or a misquoted excerpt encountered in someone’s blog.

transcendence n.
The “ideal, imagined, almost Platonic form” of a work of art that transcends all our particular experiences of it in various forms. Example: The Godfather is recognizable as The Godfather, whether we encounter as a signed first edition of Mario Puzo’s novel, a much-abused paperback in a movie tie-in edition, or the first disc in the Blu-Ray release of The Godfather Trilogy. Unless we’re focused on the history of the immanent forms themselves (the novel, the paperback, the movie on DVD), we usually treat them all as versions of the same work.

The difference between these helps explain a gap between traditional newspaper reviews, which emphasize the value of the transcendent work, and consumer reviews at Amazon and countless other sites, which are more likely to focus on the particular experience with one (immanent) form of the work. Continue reading “How to review stuff”

teh kidz r alright

A cartoon rabbit seated in front of a glowing TV set, saying "This calls for immediate action."

I was recently directed to yet another complaint about the decline of literacy, the corrosive intellect-leaching power of digital technology, and our collective guilt for letting Western civilization subside into a mire of tweets, blogs, and gaming.

iPhones Have Consequences, by Sally Thomas, is a witty, engaging essay on the subject, supported by memorable anecdotes. I believe it delves deeper into the question than most such efforts, and it’s well worth reading.

I feel I must address her argument that the present college generation is dumber than we forty-somethings, seeing as I’ve argued exactly the opposite. It’s my view that the forty-somethings are the dumbest generation currently on offer, and the so-called “twixters” or “tweens” are more curious than we, and have read more and thought about more than we had at their age. Continue reading “teh kidz r alright”

Why we call it waterboarding

I recently found some supporting evidence for my theory (in this post, one of my most read) that the term waterboarding is intended to make nonsense of a victim’s suffering by comparing his torture to an extreme sport. (Think of snowboarding, etc.) Well, a while ago Isabel Macdonald searched newspaper archives to learn about the […]

Socialism is gonna get your momma

So today the real Americans turned out en masse to protest “socialism,” government spending, middle-class tax cuts, taxes (period), and the election of a Kenyan Muslim as president of the United States. Not that we’re racist or anything. Just patriotic. You can tell by our “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and our use of Boston […]

‘New media’ circumvent gag order on ‘old media’

Over in Britain they’re having bailout issues as well. The Guardian newspaper just published a series of leaked memos showing how Barclays Bank conspired to evade taxes — while receiving huge sums of public money to avoid bankruptcy. A whistleblower at the bank leaked seven memos describing the tax avoidance schemes. The Guardian posted them […]

Small talk

Given any new technology for transmitting information, we seem bound to use it for great quantities of small talk. That was biologist and essayist Lewis Thomas in The Lives of a Cell, published in 1974. Still a good book.

Collecting debts from the dead

I have an elderly neighbor who is certain to die in crushing credit card debt. So this NYT article on a “new frontier” in debt collection grabbed my attention. (Edge of the West linked to it here.) It’s a profile of DCM Services, specialists in getting the bereaved to assume responsibility for the unsecured debts […]

What drives headlines

I’ve just caught up (thanks to the AHA blog) with the dispute over a New York Times story about the Watergate tapes. The Times’ ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, wrote this article criticizing his colleagues, especially weekend editor Alison Mitchell’s decision to give front-page play to the Feb. 1 story. The suggestion came from the paper’s culture […]

Beyond the shoe throwing: America fails in Iraq

The Bush Administration has proclaimed so many fake milestones and signs of “progress” in Iraq that (according to Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books) a genuine milestone has gone by almost unnoticed. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA for short) between the U.S. and Iraqi governments immediately curtails U.S. military and mercenary autonomy […]