July 20, 2004


Kevin Holtsberry

Wow, are you on a tear today or what?

Does this mean I should destroy my "book critic" business cards? I got $5 off by ordering 250!


Damn. That's what I call opening a can of whoop ass!


Bravo, Mark. My own comments posted on New Partisan were trying to say pretty much the same thing, though my end result was Coors Light to your Guinness Stout.

Sam Munson

Dear Mark

I appreciate you devoting so much time and energy to rebutting me. But I have to say, I'm not entirely convinced.

I think you have greatly overestimated my hostility to blogs. I am not hostile to them per se, merely to certain applications of them. And I think that your perception of my hostility to them has colored your response to me. This is doubtless partially my fault -- I wrote irreverently, which is difficult to do without sounding hostile, sneering, pompous, etc. It's always useful to know where one’s intentions fail, and for that, thanks.

As for the substance of your response, as I said, I am not convinced. To go, rather roughly, point by point:

I don't think that blogging should be held up to the model of print journalism at all, and I am sorry if I confused you. But I at no point even suggest this. I believe, and was trying to articulate, that no matter what medium criticism is published in, it should attain to a certain rigor. I don't think this is an unreasonable demand. If you read my previous column on New Partisan, you will see that I criticize Meghan O'Rourke in the NYTBR for many of the same failings, as I see them, for which I criticize Maud Newton. My use of the phrase "self-published" was not meant pejoratively -- merely descriptively. And my praise for Newton's honesty about her diminished capacity was meant seriously. I am well aware that Newton published a book review in the Washington Post. I didn't write about it because this post interested me more, in the way that it illustrates more clearly the kind of dereliction of critical duty that I am talking about. But her book review did not strike me as particularly rigorous. Although that is another story.

As for your fifth point, that Newton is not a book critic -- she may not be professionally, permanently engaged as a book critic. But the post that I wrote about is clearly criticism -- it compares, analyzes, judges, attempts to set in order. In short, it performs those actions that we call, collectively criticism. Newton, functionally, is a book critic. And as a critic, even as one who uses a blog, however occasionally, as a critical forum, she takes on the obligations of the critic, obligations that include, as I understand them, a certain rhetorical orderliness, among other things.

Re your sixth and seventh points: Newton may be indirectly accountable to her readers. But even if she had no readership, if she is as passionate as you claim (and I have no doubt she is), wouldn't she continue to publish the blog? What I meant by saying that she answers to no one other than herself is that, in the end, she doesn't -- she can't be fired, or forced out of business by declining readership. She is her own mistress. Which makes, as I said, her forthrightness all the more admirable.

As for the nature of this forthrightness -- it isn't exactly the traditional literary full disclosure. As I point out, she had already written about Elliott before becoming friends with him. Her disclosure is one that anticipates, not one that excuses.

Which leads to your last point. I understand, very well, that bloggers make no pretence of objectivity, that they are "sharing their passions," as you put it. But I can't accept that as self-justifying! I have many passionate feelings about books -- rage, depression, ineffable happiness, expansiveness, sublimity. But I would never presume to inflict them, in their raw and unmediated state, on anyone save my girlfriend or my few most intimate friends. To bring those feelings to light, to do honor to the books that inspired them, I would argue, requires a certain distancing. One has to reduce them to their most essential form. Forcing yourself to be objective -- to say, what is it, specifically, that I am feeling, and why?; to document clearly and explicitly, for yourself as much as for anyone else, the web of relations between this book and the other books that have made their mark on you -- these seem to be a way of accomplishing this distillation. Emotion recollected in tranquility may be a serviceable definition not merely of poetry but also of criticism.

I am not an "old-school" journalistic type. I don't want a "one-way soapbox" -- sort of a mixed metaphor, but it works, I guess. I am a recently minted BA, which ain't much, I know. But I have my passions, too. And I use no more license than Newton does in making clear what I admire and what I don't. Again, I apologize if my tone offended anyone -- but I stand by the substance of my criticism.

Blogs are fucking amazing, in my opinion. But too often they aren't put to their best use. Do you ever read Waggish? That's a hell of a blog. Although I could not disagree more with its author's taste or politics, he is subtle, concise, rigorous, objective to the point of being downright cold (I don't mean that as a criticism) at times, without ever losing a drop of passionate force. It's a shame it updates so infrequently. But Waggish (and the Eudaemonist) suggest the vast potential that blogs have. There is no inherent reason why something can't be at once passionate and totally objective – but it’s being so is always contingent on the ability of the critic. It makes no difference whose auspices criticism appears under, whether one's own or those of Bookforum. Newton's post doesn't really seem to be saying much of anything, yet it makes the gestures that a critic makes. I think that's what I was objecting to so strongly.



Not to jump into Mark's forum (sorry, Mark!) but I just wanted to respond to your comment. First, I think it's great that you came forward to take part in "the conversation." But I think your reply doesn't directly address what I thought was Mark's most resonant point: That blogging at its best resembles a conversation between friends. It is informal and as such rules of shorthand and allusion (such as to Hemingway or Johnson) are permissible and even desirable.

You seem to advocate an inflexible approach to criticism, which would be studiously rigorous in tone, regardless of whether one was addressing "a dear reader" friend (as some blogs prefer to do), writing a 500-word book review of a debut novelist, or, as it were, sitting down to write a trenchant piece of criticism for the skeptical audience of NYRB. As I take your view, you're not allowing for difference in occasion. Your passion seems to me to be making you seek trenchancy wherever you go. When in fact most of us would find "paucity" and "interlarded" a bit much to hear every time we went to check in with Maud.

Finally, yes, your original piece did not communicate your lack of hostility to blogs. It seemed condescending. If that was in fact not your goal, good-o on you for taking this (relatively) new form seriously enough to engage with it critically.


Dear Sam,

As frequent readers of TEV know, I generally stay out of the backblog, not wanting to succumb to “lastwordism” and recognizing that I control the desirable real estate above. So I leave this spot entirely open for dissenters, supporters and Viagra ads. But I do feel it’s worth noting – briefly – a few of the points you raise.

Before I do, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to reply. For what it’s worth, the tone of your comment is vastly more approachable than the tone of your original post, another reason I feel okay about responding. It’s the shame the original material wasn’t handled with similar sensitivity.

It’s an unfortunate tendency among those who disagree to trot out the old saw “You miss my point” simply because one has failed to agree; and I’m wary of employing that tactic here. But I do suggest that words like “rigor” and “objective” and “distanced” tell me you still haven’t fully embraced the blog paradigm. And I would suggest that there is a wide and healthy space between “raw and unmediated” and “objective to the point of being downright cold” and this is the space that most blogs occupy. It is an informal, lively, ongoing conversation.

With regard to the point that you “at no point even suggest” that blogs should be compared directly to print, it may be that there’s no single statement declaring that, but there is a cumulative effect that you might be unaware of. Consider this statement:

Again, we recognize this, immediately, as the tiresome summary demanded of critics by their editors.

Surely, this suggests an application, perhaps subconscious of print standards? You suggest that all criticism should “attain to a certain rigor” which is sounds great until you examine the questions (a) what in fact constitutes “criticism”? and (b) what are the benchmarks of “a certain rigor”? It feels decidedly subjective and slippery-slopish to me.

The notion that you focused on the blog rather than the paper because it “illustrates more clearly the kind of dereliction of critical duty that I am thinking about” suggests a certain critical laxity on your part, if we’re taking rigors. To merely seek out that which underscores our preconceived notions and to ignore contrary sources and evidences is, minimally, problematic.

There are others points I’d like to make – like that “traditional literary full disclosure” is about pre-empting any potential questions of a critic’s motives (it’s the substance, not the timing, that counts) – but I have promised to keep this short. I’d like to suggest that perhaps as a “newly minted” B.A. you are still functioning a bit within academic confines and expectations. I think blogs shatter all the models you’ve studied and a fresh approach – one which, for example, might even seek to redefine (or rename) “criticism” as it applies to blogs – would be worthy endeavor. But your essay still feels to much like trying too stick a rather old square peg into a new round hole.

And I’m a big fan of Waggish – I just wish it was updated more often. And with that, I hand the backblog back to my treasured guests.


I indeed was not condescending to Newton when I wrote at such length about her. I wouldn't have disagreed so forcefully if I had intended merely to condescend to her. Rather, I was trying to pinpoint specifically what disturbed me about her post.

It's quite reasonable, given the weird mixtur of caution and damp passion that defines the critical style today -- there are a few obvious exceptions -- that people should feel that blogs represent a possiblity for the re-lighting of a certain spark. This desire in itself is laudable.

But I believe, and will continue to believe, that there are only two occasions -- the public, and the private. I hear appreciate, the statement that blogs somehow bridge the gap between the two. But I haven't, I am sorry to say, seen much evidence yet of this. Rather, too often, they merely bring what ought to remain private into an unfortunately public light.

I will certainly agree to your suggestion that blogs are inherently informal, that they resemble more closely conversation between friends than anything else. At the same time, if that it in fact the case, wouldn't one have to acknowledge certain limits to them, just as we acknoweledge limits to more traditional forms of criticism?

Mark brought up the example of Common Sense. While it's of course impossible to claim that that work was a marvel of literary-critical objectivity, it showed another kind of objectivity -- a shrewd appreciation of the submerged political tenor of its time. Paine tempered his own, doubtlessly intensely passionate feelings not with the coldness of the critic, but with the coldness of the orator, who himself must remain unmoved if he is to move the crowd.

The analogy between bloggers and pamphleteers has been made before, but always in the connection of affirming the inalienable right (if you will) of passion to express itself, rather than noting that a certain amount of shrewdness and mediation is necessary to maintain the appearance of a passionate outburst.

It seems to me that if most book reviews are fairly unreadable, it's not because of an excess of objectivity. Rather, it's due to an excess of subjectivity -- a subjectivity that has been calcified and institutionalized, a warm, intimate style that is false and unsatisfying precisely because it has become style.

The antidote to this, I think, is not to become defiantly subjective, but defiantly objective.

Like this isn't condescending?:

I’d like to suggest that perhaps as a “newly minted” B.A. you are still functioning a bit within academic confines and expectations. I think blogs shatter all the models you’ve studied and a fresh approach – one which, for example, might even seek to redefine (or rename) “criticism” as it applies to blogs – would be worthy endeavor.



I agree that the traditional book review model can often seem calcified and stale, though I would disagree that this is due to "damp passion". My own take is that the form suffers from an over-codification, whereby a page is devoted to a book review that has only about a paragraphs information to deliver: to wit, "thumbs up" or "thumbs down". The rest is often empty filler. (I've mentioned this dissatisfaction before, over at Maud's. And I've perpretated many of these reviews myself, which is why I wrestle with it.) That's why I find the New Yorker's Briefly Noted section, as well as the picks on the blogs of Terry Teachout and Sarah Weinman so intriguing: They are concise but elegant, allowing someone to share a number of recommendations (or pans) quickly, with space left over for a longer critical engagement with a work.

Where I find myself in disagreement (and I recognize this as an impasse, at which neither of us will convince the other otherwise) is your rather strict dichotomy of private/public, subjective/objective. I take your point, and even see the beauty of it, but I wouldn't want to live in that cold world.


Bricks and chains, DQ parking lot, midnight.

Re: Item number five. This is your claim Mark, not Maud's and it isn't essential, but perhaps you should amend your tone a little to reflect Maud's direct testimony, to wit:


I'm [...] "My book reviews have appeared in the Washington Post Book World."


Forgive me for playing the semantics game, but I've always believed that a book critic was one that made the endeavor more or less a full-time vocation. E.g. Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin, Yardley, Dirda, Dale Peck (even though he's a novelist too, but his critique pieces take months for him to write and are practically novella-length.) In crime fiction, people like Oline Cogdill. Those who freelance book reviews--like Maud, myself, or any number of individuals whose names appear in the major book supplements--are not, by my definition, critics.

But without even getting into the semantics issue, Maud's blog is a personal site with a focus on literary matters, and not (necessarily) a venue for her to launch into the kind of criticism normally reserved for places like the LRB or the New Republic.

Besides, one might have a teensy weensy clue that the site--nor most literary blogs--aren't going to have some kind of rarified standard of objectivity by the URLs you type in to get there. If I'd wanted to create a purely objective site for reasoned criticism on the current state of crime fiction, I'd have chosen a URL that reflects that. But I use my name, because guess what? It's all about me, me, me. It's great that like-minded folks seem to want to seek out my own personal slant, but in the end, roughly 99% of the content I put up on the blog is because it's stuff I'm interested in and want to talk about. The rest is a bonus, and flows from there.

And to go off on a bit of a tangent, my own idea of objectivity stems from my background and training as a scientist--the land of the scientific method, experimentation, and fairly logical explanations for when things go wrong. Literary critique will, IMO, never even begin to approach such a level of objectivity. Because criticism is, at least the way I practice and believe it to be, about defining what works and what does not. And with very, very few exceptions, such definitions are never uniform.

Besides, subjectivity is just way more fun.


I read (and find interesting) reviews by writers of other writers' work for different reasons than I read critical reviews and I expect different things from them. A large part of the attraction is bringing a body of knowledge of the writer's personality/voice and their work to the table. I feel the same way when I come across a review by Maud or Sarah in the Washington Post or elsewhere, because I view them as writers who blog. I may have more familiarity with their blog writing than I do with their fiction (right now, because one published body of work is larger and more accessible), but that doesn't change the essence of my expectations. The subjectiveness of their reviews I take as a given and -- as Mark said in his original rebuttal -- I've developed a sense for how my taste matches and differs from theirs through recommendations over time.

Frankly, objectiveness bores me and is a joke. It's often a joke when journalists report on facts and it's even more of one to expect it of a human being reacting to a piece of art. Call me naive, I won't care.

This just seemed like "let's pin the target on Maud Newton" to me and for no legitimate reason whatsoever. There's a difference between recommending a writer's work and criticizing it, imo. Criticism usually bores me and Maud's blog never does, so that's one way I tell the difference.

Sorry to be snarky in your comments, Mark.

nobody's friend, just an observer

Sarah: were you making the (original) argument above and qualifying who a critic is as someone you determine based on a limited understanding of both their means and availability (wherein you require a degree of institutional legitimacy in the form of large circulation peroidicals -- I assume this means you find small circulation journals irrelevant?), or simply as something you enjoy (which, honestly, makes 'writing' for 'others' difficult without a priori knowledge of what you are enjoying at a particular moment in time; thankfully, you aren't the sole arbiter of these things), then your comments would be relevant. But I was only addressing to Mark that Maud does attest to occassionally being paid to review things. She may only then post abbreviated opinion for her 'friends' (in Mark's construct -- if only the support of my friends would result in a deluge of reader copies of new books!) in her blog, but he seems to be taking a rather strident position, one that fails -- in part -- under rather simple scrutiny. As we all might learn from Peck: if you want to trade bards, get yer ducks in a row first. Apologies for the sloppy metaphor sligin.

haste makes waste

Hh, and feel free to comment on my inability to correct typos. That always helps an argument.

haste makes waste

Oh, and feel free to comment on my (uncorrectable) typos. Always a very useful technique


Damn, I am forever late to the party.

This is no doubt a redundant observation but I wanted shout out my whole hearted agreement with Mark about the conversation(s) that are the submerged but invaluable part of the literary web log world.

Now that I think about it, there are a dozen or so people , whom I have never met or talked with, whose opinions and observations and voices I greatly value .

The journalists I admire(d), Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Murray Kempton, maybe IF Stone [okay I know they aren't literary critics] , I think would laugh at Sam Munson. I know I did.


MarK: You are a riot! I know I'm late in reading this post, but I just can't stop laughing.

Sam and Harry: I have to commend you two! What better way to get more readers to your site than to attack a pair of the most popular blogs? It's better (and cheaper) than adverstising.


Dear Mr. Siegel,

I refer to Mr. Sarvas on my blog as 'Mark' because I know him. So sue me.

My readers know which 'Mark' I refer to because I provide a link. (Let me know if you want me to explain the concept of a hyperlink.)

If you don't like Maud's blog, don't read it.

Harry Siegel

Mr. Sarvas,

Do you make a habit of removing comments you don't agree with? (Note the remarks above addressed to "Sam and Harry" and "Mr. Siegel." Good luck finding my — that is Harry Siegel's — comments others have written in response to. Those have been, conveniently, removed, despite being well within the confines of civilized discourse. Presumably you did this to keep such bad folk as I from gathering from hits linked off your site, and to cut off a debate you find uncomfortable and unfair, and in which your team was getting badly pummeled. We've been putting out New Partisan for months without picking fights for their own sake, and we don't do network, feud, or read at the KGB bar. Given time, quality attracts, even without a first name basis social network. Whatever your motive for removing my previous comment, it cuts strongly against your whole spiel about "the conversation" blogs allow for. Is there a better explanation, or are you as cowardly as you appear?

Mr. Sarvas,

I'm pleased to inform you that I've composed a reply to your screed in the form of an open letter to my columnist Samuel Munson. I think this should make clear who will win if you choose to maintain your honor, as it were, and continue this evidently mismatched battle of intellects.

Your Faithful Servant,

Harry Rosenberg Siegel

P.S. My co-editor Tim Marchman, with whom I am communicating by telephone as this is composed, wishes to inform you he and his wife were deeply offended and disappointed (as I suspect was your mother) at the need to excise profanity from your remarks on our website. Recognizing that cursing is part of your so-called passion shtick, we'd advise you that, as Casares has it, "the more change you introduce into life, the more routine it is."

P.P.S. We're open to all sorts of contributors, and you should surprise us by submitting a piece to the site that meets our standards, which are entirely to do with quality, which I'm sure we define more broadly than you'd guess, and not at all with literary or other politics.

Harry Siegel

And noticing that none of your shock troops have linked to New Partisan's response to your vitrolic open letter merely confirms my point about a social network afraid of serious conversation and the tough questions that are so often a part of it. If you can take the heat, boy, get out of the kitchen; you dish it but can't take it out, etc. And going over our logs, you flatter yoursevles as to how much traffic your worth; I'm just not willing to be bullied — or have my columnists berated — by a simpering social network. Finally, I'm posting my response from New Partisan below. We'll see if you're honest enough to let it stand here, deep in a comments field in a website nearly as obscure as the one I edit, where your like-minded cronies are the only ones likely to see it.

“What a disadvantage for the man whose greatest vigor is intellectual! If nobody around us appreciates it, intelligence functions in the dark, distraught with resentment; it ceases to exist.”
—Adolfo Bioy Casares, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine

As New Partisan readers may have noticed, I almost never enter into the swampy world of comments posted about an already-published article, but given the brouhaha Sam Munson’s latest dispatch has raised, I want to point out a few things about his quite vituperative and often profane critics. To begin with, I’m not friends with Mr. Munson (we’ve met in person just once), though I like him. As an editor and a freelance journalist I often have a nightmarish concern that many of my correspondents are doing little more than passing the Turing Test. Prior to editing Mr. Munson’s article, I was not familiar with Maud Newton’s site, which I found dull but not at all offensive. It struck me — and this is on a few quick scans, mind — as a place for hangers-on to enjoy the literary semi-underground (as when Ms. Newton drops Lydia Lunch’s name in her Happy Baby review, for instance).

With my dispositions disclosed, then, what struck me most about the responses, on New Partisan and elsewhere, to Mr. Munson’s piece was the if- you- have- to- ask- you’ll- just- never- know tone best encapsulated by a commenter called Gwenda, whose remarks in full read:

I think it’s safe to say that Sam Munson just. doesn’t. get. it.
(And you can substitute what you like for the “it.”)

And this cultishness is also evident in the apparently chummy relations among most all the bloggers and comment writers who take on Mr. Munson’s article. Almost without exception, the bloggers Mr. Munson wrote about — Ms. Newton and Mark Sarvas — are referred to as Maud and Mark (in his response to Mr. Munson’s article, Mr. Sarvas also name checks Sarah and Ed, whoever they are). The phrase “Maud-bashing” is used several times, as though Maud is as instantly recognizable a noun as say, “gay.” And this is hardly the only example of bloggers and comment-writers reading off the same script, a subject I’ll return to later.

One blog entry that uses the brand new cliché of “Maud-bashing” assures the reader that “Mark says he’ll have a response” — all the readers of moorishgirl.com presumably know to which Mark this is referring — “and, knowing him,” — don’t we all? — “I’m sure we’re in for a treat.” Speaking as someone who doesn’t know him, I wasn’t especially impressed with his open letter to Mr. Munson or his response to Mr. Munson’s response to said open letter, which opens with the doth-protest-too-much claim that “I generally stay out of the backblog, not wanting to succumb to ‘lastwordism’.”

Mr. Munson’s critics mostly indulge in the same sin he accuses Ms. Newton of — failing to explain what they mean — though unlike Ms. Newton, they often engage in profanity and hysteria. Mostly, they seem to lean on Mr. Sarvas’s response, as with the blogger Bondgirl’s contribution to the debate, which is nothing but a link to Mr. Munson’s article reading “This guy is a jack-ass” and a link to Mr. Sarvas’s response. Others are less subtle and restrained, such as the blogger on EdRants who, in an entry entitled “Woof Woof: Who Let the Grads out?”, brags that “Mark’s opened up a can of whipass.” (To offer an additional instance of blogsphere as echo chamber, one of the comments under Mr. Sarvas’s article reads, in full, “Damn. That’s what I call opening a can of whoop ass!”) Taking the punny title a bit too literally, two different commentators call Mr. Munson a graduate student (clearly intending it as a slur, which I’m inclined to agree it is) and another sneeringly echoes Mr. Munson’s description of himself as “a newly minted B.A.,” perhaps under the impression he’s just started grad school. Such dull repetitions should be of great concern to those such as myself who care about blogs. They show how easily and often blogs can become one stop shopping for speaking points, an easy way of getting the day’s dose of either partisan virulence, in-club belongingness, or both. As Mr. Sarvas has it,

The reason that people will visit five or six literary blogs in the course of day is not for objective content. All too often we link to the same stories anyway. We seek out a personal take. I want to know what Maud thinks about Dale Peck. … which is terribly subjective. And all of which is a damned sight more interesting than any objective thoughts about anything that you might have.

And if you think virulence is an overstatement, consider the following comment: “Maud is … great at what she does and never pretends to be something she’s not. She is unfailingly generous and civil…” But this writer declines to follow Ms. Newton’s example, instead telling Mr. Munson to “Leave her the fuck alone.” That for all those eager to explain how blogs elevate discourse.

Personally, I hate comments fields. I think letters about articles or even blog entries should be considered for worth and line edited before running. Otherwise you get this sort of nonsense. But my authors like the feedback — the quick high of instant reader response — and I defer in this instance to their wishes. We’re half a blog ourselves, and I presume we Partisans are all in it for the love, since there’s no pay.

In his open letter, Mr. Sarvas, in his chiding first-name tone, demands:

Think about it, Sam. (Because clearly you haven’t.) What else could compel a person to launch and maintain a daily site for no money and the dubious privilege of being side-swiped by cranky, defensive second-guessers like yourself? Here’s the word you need to remember: “Passion.” Not only is it not a dirty word, I’d venture to say it’s the reason that most people seek out the blogs they read — to bask in the passion of their host.

We’re here out of Passion. But not the sort that demands an end to second guessing, including of each other. To the feast of friends Mr. Sarvas brags about, I can only reply with the Groucho Marx line about not wanting to belong to any club that would have me. We’d like a conversation. But we’re not the ones cursing, or launching into personal attacks on people we’ve never met. To go back to Casares, “Sometimes I think that people alone are crazy and that they cease to be so in conversation. Conversation imposes a level of common sense.” Dialogue is what keeps intelligence from vanishing into the dark. The question is, does the small world of literary blogs want conversation, or a monologue preformed by the chorus?

The response to Mr. Munson’s article suggests the latter. While a few of the comments are more serious in tone, the blog world has in effect rather lazily designated Mr. Sarvas as the spokesperson for its objections to Mr. Munson. All the other bloggers and most of the comment-leavers are content to name call and, as per my above concern about the blog as a closed feedback system, simply name check Mr. Sarvas’s argument as though that should suffice to end the debate. But Mr. Sarvas’s much-hyped comeuppance to our man is, to my mind, merely dated futurist ravings of the edge-of-now variety, inked in a colloquial postmodernism intended to deflect accusations of grad school attendance, but as word-drunk and pointless as a Foucault-worshipper’s dissertation — for example, “what are the benchmarks of ‘a certain rigor’? It feels decidedly subjective and slippery-slopish to me.” What really separates Mr. Sarvas from all but the most ambitious grad school students is his penchant for ad hominem attacks:

utterly bewildered and in way over your head.

your obvious ignorance

If you had taken the time to contemplate this question, you might have arrived at the list of four above all by your lonesome and not embarrassed yourself with your subsequent outpouring.

an old-school journalistic type like yourself who merely seeks the one way soapbox

What else could compel a person to launch and maintain a daily site for no money and the dubious privilege of being side-swiped by cranky, defensive second-guessers like yourself? Here’s the word you need to remember: “Passion.”

Now, let’s get down to some brass tacks, Sammy.

there’s a key second part of that equation that you necessarily overlook because it portends some pretty ugly shit vis-à-vis your own existence

you demonstrate a singular narrow-mindedness and inflexibility

All of which amounts to little more than “fuck you, you fucking fuck,” to quote from Blue Velvet in deference to the many degenerate hipsters I suspect have linked directly to this page from whatever lit-blogs, and are now doubtless preparing indignant responses on the level of those already mentioned.

But to return to Sarvas, his rhetoric about blogs is wonderfully dated — futurist, to put an era on it — full of hope for their liberating potential, breathlessly borrowing empty threats from old manifestos: “The world has changed, Sam. Adapt and survive. Or cling to old ideas and be swept away into irrelevance.”

I write for two blogs, and this is so much hooey, and much the same hooey that we’ve heard about every new technology since at least the radio. His wide-eyed enthusiasm suggests to me that he and his followers are culture-slummers, too damn eager to be on the cutting edge but in fact just straddling it instead. (Picture the image, and you’ll see my point).

As to Ms. Newton, I had till this moment been planning on praising her for standing above the fray, merely posting a few brief remarks and then pointing people to Mr. Sarvas’s post. But as I consider how nasty his post is, and how she points to it with glee on her own site, her posture reminds me more and more of politicians who let their attack dogs do the dirty work.

What’s funny is that the smartest attack, hands-down, is from Mr. Munson’s fellow Partisan, David Walley, who takes Mr. Munson on, quite fairly I think, for the needless and showy difficulty of his language, which at times blocks the view that should link his words to his point. Walley remarks that Mr. Munson strikes him as “some kind of literary fetishist who’s writing with winter gloves on, or latex gloves…” What distinguishes this from the likes of Ms. Newton, Mr. Sarvas and their gaggle of echoing defenders is that he goes on to explain what this means: “in as far as there’s an obvious disconnect inherent between what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.” Now that, in a sentence, is criticism.

The choice bloggers such as Mr. Sarvas offer between passion and editing is phony, the penultimate refuge of the lazy (free verse poetry is still the first). I make a living as a freelance writer and researcher, am writing a book on gentrification in New York, and editing more than 5,000 words of copy weekly. What Mr. Sarvas’s false choice inadvertently reveals is the narcissism and first-namism of the blog world, where everyone wants to be a star and no one wants to put in the time to edit. The fact that there is no decent financial incentive to be an editor doesn’t help things, though pointing out that this may be a motivating factor in the denunciation of the editor leads to unpleasant notions about how genuine the Passion of some actually is. What’s more, I’m skeptical blogs change any more minds than, say, TNR or the Weekly Standard. I think they just make it easier for folks to sop in same-mindedness and pre-digested facts and idea-patterns of the sort they’re already amenable to.

To give Mr. Sarvas the last word, “It’s entirely possible to divine one’s literary enthusiasms over time without needing long reviews and formal criticisms. There have been enough times where Maud’s taste dovetails with mine that she’s become a trusted source for me.” And that just about sums up the problem.

—Harry Siegel for the Editors of New Partisan


Mr. Siegel

You removed my comment from your site citing use of profanity. I did the same to your comment. Your subsequent profanity-free comment can remain.

Tim Marchman

Mr. Sarvas,

No one removed your comment from our site. We substituted the phrase "so and so" for an unseemly profanity. At any event, given the obscenity-filled rant above, your defense hardly seems credible; it seems more likely that you are less devoted to Conversation than you are to posturing like a hero before your followers and ensuring you get the last word. Rudeness, censoriousness, and a devotion to the Promise Of The Future- what an utterly charming collection of character traits.

Alfred Kinsley III

Mr. Seigel:

Please note that it's truly a marvelous thing -- no, not the blogosphere or your ramblings. No, not at all. I speak, of course, of this whole regular sex thing. For one thing, frequent copulation (preferably with someone you love, which would possibly include yourself) relaxes you and focuses your attention on more important targets such as George Bush, Dan Brown, Jerry Falwell, and other notable mofos. It puts things into perspective. So settled are you are within this intimate tableau that it becomes quickly apparent that your time is valuable. And you begin to focus your energies towards constructive arguments, appropriate targets, and (most importantly) a life where you're nowhere nearly as starved for attention. You can walk down the street knowing that (to adopt a metaphor from Prince) you're a sexy motherfucker -- even if you're NOT getting regular action.

This, I think, is the real problem here. And I urge you as a fellow human being to consider the advantages of a life with rampant sex or mastrubation.


Alfred Kinsley III
Passionate Sex Researcher

Robert Nagle

I wrote a piece about how to handle literary conflicts of interest here: http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/index.php?p=83398033 Or perhaps you are sick of the subject?

Board Williams

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