Lemon Hound surveys the critical landscape

January 27, 2010 by · 5 Comments 

The poet Sina Queyras is conducting an ongoing series of interviews about the practice of reviewing and criticism for her website, Lemon Hound. The people she’s interviewed so far – including Michael Turner, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Christian Bök, Michael Bryson, and Marjorie Perloff – come from a variety of backgrounds and approaches, and the diverse opinions about critical practices that they espouse make for fascinating reading.

Yr. humble correspondent is currently featured on the site. The process of answering Queyras’s questions has provided an opportunity for me to clarify certain ideas and theories of criticism in my own mind, and to actively engage with aspects of the current reviewing climate.

From the interview:

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend? Do you see this trend reversing, or changing course?

SB: The very fact that I blog about books – without remuneration and on my own time – should answer this question. Having said that, the fact that professional reviewers are not paid even close to what they are worth is a situation that needs to be redressed. It’s all well and good for enthusiasts who want to share their love of a particular book to fire up the Internet and bang out fifty words, but this is not remotely connected to the practice of criticism. Much of the discourse around books that we see online is the digital equivalent of a coffee klatch; it has as much to do with professional criticism as a game of pick-up basketball has to do with the NBA. There is some very good, thoughtful, careful writing to be found online. There is also a glut of careless, ill-considered, illogical, and badly written book chat that passes itself off as legitimate criticism. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that experienced critics – those connoisseurs who have devoted a lifetime to the reading and study of literature – are not able to make a living wage off of their writing. This simultaneously devalues their output and injures the literary culture at large, since a vibrant literary culture requires a vibrant critical culture in order to thrive. In the absence of incisive criticism – criticism, not cheerleading – a culture will become complacent, will stagnate, and eventually shrivel.

There are few things worse in this life than homework every day

January 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

(via Stormsy)

Literary algebra: The commercial + the literary = the not-quite

December 16, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Ever since commercial fiction has outsold its literary counterpart (which, for those who are unsure, means always), people have argued about what exactly constitutes “literary” fiction. How esoteric/highbrow/impenetrable does a work of fiction have to be to qualify as a “literary” novel? My colleague and buddy Nathan Whitlock has charged into this minefield with characteristic abandon in a recent column for Maisonneuve magazine. Whitlock kicks off his argument by pointing to a review of Lori Lansens’ novel The Wife’s Tale, commissioned by yours truly for Quill & Quire (where Whitlock and yr. humble correspondent share a pod-like cubicle) and written by James Grainger.

Now, I consider Grainger to be one of the sharpest critics in this country, but his review – which was generally positive – nevertheless roused the ire of Lansens’ agent, Denise Bukowski, who accused the reviewer of getting his facts wrong (the review erroneously stated that Oprah Winfrey had optioned the film rights to Lansens’ first novel, Rush Home Road)* and, more egregiously, of committing what Whitlock refers to as the “Sin of Distinction”: “after listing some of the authors who had been picked either for Oprah’s Book Club or … the U.K.’s Richard and Judy Book Club, Bukowski fought back against Grainger’s ‘patronizing’ notion that Lansens was working within chosen boundaries.” Whitlock summarizes the whole farrago this way:

This dust-up was a visible manifestation of a larger problem dogging Canadian publishing: the semi-utopian belief that literature is a garden that not only welcomes all comers (true enough), but contains no hedges or fences, is equally accessible from corner to corner, is blind to difference and immune to personal bias. Authors of all stripes mingle freely, and woe to him who suggests there are fundamental differences between what they write and for whom it’s intended.

The temptation to conflate various kinds of novels that are in fact distinct in execution and intended audience, Whitlock contends, should be avoided; critics need to “be more discerning” in “understanding (or perhaps admitting) that fiction comes in many forms” and they must be “unequivocal about what a given book is, and … catholic enough in their professional tastes to fairly assess diverse authorial intentions.” By describing the commercial aspects of Lansens’ novel, Grainger was simply performing one aspect of the critic’s job: situating the work within a particular category or tradition. Where Bukowski erred was in assuming that this implied any kind of value judgment.

Whitlock puts his finger on the reason a certain kind of middlebrow novel holds sway over CanLit these days: the dominant trend favours a kind of hybrid novel – what he refers to as the “Not-Quite Novel” – the literary equivalent of Dr. Moreau’s man-beasts: books that are “too thorny and/or sober to entertain, yet too conventional and broad to last.” The result of this artificial generic enjambment is novels like The Book of Negroes: ambitious tales about weighty subjects told in a manner that is straightforward and unchallenging. By refusing to completely embrace one aspect or the other – the commercial or the literary – the novel ends up doing justice to neither.

If I have any difficulty with Whitlock’s argument, it would reside in my feeling that he goes too far in pursuing an overly rigid dichotomy between “commercial” novels – those “big-plot, lots-o’-story books” – and “literary” ones (by which I take it he means difficult, more stylistically adventurous books that eschew story in favour of character development and syntactical pyrotechnics). The implication seems to be that “thorny and/or sober” books can’t entertain, while “conventional and broad” books don’t endure. What, then, is one to do with Dickens (who has been called the Shakespeare of the novel), whose writing was enormously commercial in the author’s own day, yet endures down to the present? (Whitlock covers himself here, referring at one point to “the strange things that time and distance can do to artistic categories,” but this admission seems to take a bit of the sting out of his argument.) How does one account for a book like Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, an Oprah pick that is unequivocally a “big-plot, lots-o’-story” novel, but seems to have a certain amount of staying power (first released in 1996, this month it was selected as one of the five contenders for the 2010 edition of Canada Reads)? And since Whitlock himself brings up Steven Galloway, how are we to categorize that author’s 2008 novel The Cellist of Sarajevo? It’s a story-driven book, but it also has frankly “literary” properties: a weighty subject (the Siege of Sarajevo), well-drawn characters, and evident attention to the prose on a line-by-line basis. (Whitlock might characterize this as a hybrid, or a Not-Quite Novel, but I consider it to be generally better than that.)

Recent years have seen a retreat from the kind of obscurantist anti-novel that began in the Modernist era and found its apogee in the French nouveau roman as practiced by authors like Alain Robbe-Grillet. In its stead, we are witnessing a resurgence – and newfound critical acceptance – of novels that privilege story over technical experiment – witness the critical accolades being heaped upon Stephen King’s latest novel, Under the Dome. King is a self-admitted commercial writer, and it’s unlikely the broad spectrum of his readers would be entertained by, say, the prolix digressions and postmodern approach of David Foster Wallace (despite the fact that, to a certain sensibility, Wallace is giddily entertaining). This, of course, is Whitlock’s point: different writers employ different styles and appeal to different audiences. But I wonder whether the broad categories he sets out may in fact be somewhat more permeable than he seems to suggest they are.

*It was Whoopi Goldberg. What idiot was in charge of fact checking that? … Oh. My bad.

Two views of human development

December 4, 2009 by · 8 Comments 

Guess which one yr. humble correspondent subscribes to.

Once people begin to buy their first adult permanent furniture, that’s when they’ve locked into their final personality. – Douglas Coupland

vs.

The process of maturation never ceases in interesting persons so long as they remain interesting. – John Berryman


Esprit de l’escalier, the Steven Heighton edition

November 26, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

Earlier this year, I published an essay in Canadian Notes and Queries with the somewhat adversarial title “Fuck Books.” In it, I expended about 3,000 words gassing on about the prevalence of a certain kind of pseudo-poetic, lyrical fiction that seems to dominate the literary discourse in this country. Two writers in particular – Anne Michaels and Michael Ondaatje – took it on the chin in that piece. (Of course, that essay was written before I read The Winter Vault, Michaels’ follow-up to her highly acclaimed debut novel, Fugitive Pieces; although my feelings about the latter novel remain unchanged, regular readers of this site may recall my surprise at how much I liked The Winter Vault.)

In the wake of the CNQ essay’s appearance, critics (myself and others) pointed out that not all poetic fiction is created equal. This is something that came to mind last night as I was dipping into the poet Robyn Sarah’s essay collection Little Eurekas. I came across a dialogue that Sarah had with Steven Heighton in the pages of another journal, The New Quarterly. The subject of the “paired talks” was “The Poet’s Hand in the Short Story,” and had I read it prior to writing my own essay, I might have reconsidered, since Heighton says almost everything I wanted to say, but in a much more concise and cogent manner:

To put things another way: while a literary novelist strives to get every sentence right, and a short story writer struggles with every word, a poet is actually attentive at the level of the syllable – attentive to every syllable’s length, stress, latent or overt music, onomatopoeic potential and so on. Over the course of a text, the meanings developed and/or stories conveyed are not separable from this interplay of syllables any more than the externals of a galaxy are independent of the microscopic dance of its atoms. Which is simply to say that poets strive to build texts from the micro-level upwards.

When it works, this molecular construction, this radical aptness of diction, leads to writing that feels layered, textured, mysterious, complex, and symphonic; where it fails, the results feel fussy, showy, effortful, pretentious, or, worst of all, static – a bevy of pretty phrases standing around preening and admiring themselves.

One way for the poet-writing-fiction to avoid this kind of vain stasis is to spin a compelling story – as does Cormac McCarthy – because poetic writing that leads narratively nowhere feels (at least to me) self-indulgent and idle, while similar writing that relates, or embodies, a good story simply adds to the text’s resonance and force. So lucky readers of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth get to savour both a compelling yarn and a bravura verbal performance.

The idea of a “compelling yarn” married to “a bravura verbal performance” is what John Barth was referring to in talking about the desirable combination of algebra and fire in fiction:

Let “algebra” stand for formal ingenuity and “fire” for what touches our emotions. … Formal virtuosity itself can of course be breathtaking, but much algebra and little or no fire makes for mere gee-whizzery, like Queneau’s Exercises in Style and A Hundred Thousand Billion Sonnets. Much fire and little or no algebra, on the other hand, makes for heartfelt muddles – no examples needed. What most of us want from literature most of the time is what has been called passionate virtuosity …

Perhaps the fact that passionate virtuosity, the satisfying combination of a “radical aptness of diction” and a compelling story, is so rare is actually a blessing, for it makes the experience of encountering them that much more potent.

On critical responsibility and best intentions

November 13, 2009 by · 31 Comments 

Two adversarial pieces about the nature of criticism caught my eye over the past few days. In the first corner, arguing in favour of critical relativism, is Chris Banks:

Most poetic forms are arbitrary and anyone who attacks or trivializes another poet’s work for not working within the same set of poetic conventions or formal restraints as themselves is either a propagandist or a pretender. Such talk simply propagates the pointless form versus content argument. Reviewers should be asking of every poetry collection they read what is the intent of the poet? How well have they used image, language, metaphor, thought, musicality, emotional sensation to embody one’s consciousness within a poem, or to unfold one’s human experience, or to manifest a desire to transcend one’s circumstances, or to break down the barriers that exist between one’s private life and the world at large?

In the other corner, arguing in favour of aesthetic standards, is Brian Palmu:

Reviewing is highly subjective. It is not a soft procedure in order to find, at whatever compromising stretch, a go-between for author and reader. Such a “sensitive” approach is patronizing to both. The author can detail the most lovely sentiments, the most highly evolved spiritual truths, the most progressive social solutions, yet if those aren’t set down in compelling image, metaphor, voice, syntax, narrative, sound, organic structure, passion, mood, rhythm, tone (you know, those outdated poetic “vice”-devices, according to the “revolutionaries”), the words may better be employed in a prose essay, religious tract, political speech.

The differences between these two approaches are worth noting. The former suffers from what Wimsatt and Beardsley referred to as “the intentional fallacy.” In Wimsatt and Beardsley’s conception, the notion that a critic can ever have access to an author’s intentions when writing is wrong, because these intentions are always inaccessible to the reader of a text (and often, to the author of that text once the process of writing is complete):

One must ask how a critic expects to get an answer to the question about intention. How is he to find out what the poet tried to do? If the poet succeeded in doing it, then the poem itself shows what he was trying to do. And if the poet did not succeed, then the poem is not adequate evidence, and the critic must go outside the poem – for evidence of an intention that did not become effective in the poem.

So, when Banks asserts, “Reviewers should be asking of every poetry collection they read what is the intent of the poet,” he is essentially suggesting that critics must become diviners or psychics, transporting themselves into the mind of the poet at the moment of composition in order to tease out the nuances of intention. In his book Literary Theory: An Introduction, Terry Eagleton castigates I.A. Richards for suggesting much the same thing: “Richards had naively assumed that the poem was no more than a transparent medium through which we could observe the poet’s psychological processes: reading was just a matter of recreating in our own mind the mental condition of the author.” Eagleton expands on this a few pages later:

Even if critics could obtain access to an author’s intention, would this securely ground the text in a determinate meaning? What if we asked for an account of the meaning of an author’s intentions, and then for an account of that, and so on? Security is possible here only if authorial meanings are … pure, solid, “self-identical” facts which can be unimpeachably used to anchor the work. But this is a highly dubious way of seeing any kind of meaning at all.

Authorial intentions are a problematic place for a critic to locate meaning or worth in a poem, because they are unavailable to him, and the work itself is not sufficient to testify to what an author was trying to do in its composition (which is, of course, distinct from whether the author was successful in whatever it was (s)he ended up producing).

What the critic is able to access are the words on the page, which are open to judgment on the level of euphony, metaphor, originality, and any number of other standards that are distinct from a kind of fuzzy supposition about authorial intentions. The fact that a critic relies on this kind of objective standard in assessing a work does not deny the essential subjectivity of all criticism, which is something that Palmu accedes to in his comment. But whereas Banks argues that the poetic devices of “image, language, metaphor, thought, musicality, emotional sensation” should be used by the critic to determine the extent to which a poet has managed “to embody one’s consciousness within a poem, or to unfold one’s human experience, or to manifest a desire to transcend one’s circumstances, or to break down the barriers that exist between one’s private life and the world at large,” Palmu rightly separates the devices a poet employs from “the most lovely sentiments, the most highly evolved spiritual truths, the most progressive social solutions” that the poet might wish to espouse.

No doubt there is a subjective element to any act of criticism, but there is also such a thing as a bad sentence. Experience has shown that there are innumerable ways to construct a bad sentence, and sloppy writers with the best intentions will nevertheless be guilty of employing them. In any critical discourse, a retreat into vagaries such as unfolding one’s human experience or transcending one’s circumstances is never an acceptable substitute for a careful analysis of a work on a line-by-line basis. Instead of asking whether the poem’s devices “break down the barriers that exist between one’s private life and the world at large,” the critic should ask whether the poem is clichéd, whether it employs appropriate images or metaphors, whether its argument is valid, etc. Although in the abstract it sounds very noble to suggest that critics should subordinate their analytical rigour to a heightened sensitivity about what an author was trying to do, in practice this approach results in an abdication of critical responsibility.

Fuck that with vigour and from a strange direction

November 3, 2009 by · 7 Comments 

It isn’t the readers’ or the writers’ fault that publishing has fallen on its own sword and allowed book shop chains and short-term thinking to eat its heart away. It isn’t our fault that the Net Book Agreement disappeared (although we should have fought harder to keep it). But we are the ones who’ll lose out, who don’t get the variety of books, who don’t find the unlooked-for pleasures or get to share the new dreams. The appetite for them is still out there. With each generation of poor schooling it’ll be diminished – we’ll be less and less able to understand what we don’t have – but, for now, the part of my job which is consistently inspiring involves seeing and feeling the energy of readers, meeting that immense enthusiasm for wonders – in all kinds of people in all kinds of situations – Ilkley, Ely, Toronto … it doesn’t seem to matter where. If that energy and intelligence steps up to the next level of organisation, there could be hope for us. And I need never go on another TV or radio show and find that, however the discussion was described beforehand, what we’re really meant to talk about is how poetry is dead, or the novel is rubbish, or the short story is irrelevant. Fuck that, quite frankly. Really. Fuck that with vigour and from a strange direction. It truly leaves me more than annoyed.

– A.L. Kennedy in the Guardian

Just say NaNo?

November 1, 2009 by · 11 Comments 

Today is November 1, which marks the first day of the annual writing marathon known as NaNoWriMo. For those of us who despise cutesy acronyms, this must serve as some sort of reductio ad absurdum, standing as it does for National Novel Writing Month and not, as one might be forgiven for assuming, Nah, No Write More. The project, which is based in America and is now in its 11th year, is kind of the marathon version of Canada’s annual Labour Day weekend sprint, the 3-Day Novel Contest.

NaNoWriMo was inaugurated in 1999, when a group of 21 friends banded together during the month of July to see how many of them could write a novel over the course of 31 days. Their rationale was simple. They wanted to be novelists so that they could get laid:

[O]ur July noveling binge had little to do with any ambitions we might have harbored on the literary front. Nor did it reflect any hopes we had about tapping more fully into our creative selves. No, we wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands. Because we wanted to make noise. Because we didn’t have anything better to do. And because we thought that, as novelists, we would have an easier time getting dates than we did as non-novelists.

What they discovered was that turning the practice of novel writing into a kind of month-long block party made the entire process enjoyable in a way that “would have rightly horrified professional writers.” In the words of NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty:

We had taken the cloistered, agonized novel-writing process and transformed it into something that was half literary marathon and half block party.

We called it noveling. And after the noveling ended on August 1, my sense of what was possible for myself, and those around me, was forever changed. If my friends and I could write passable novels in a month, I knew, anyone could do it.

Ignore (for the moment) the way in which “noveling” has been reduced to the literary equivalent of knitting, or the unbridled ambition involved in wanting to write “passable” novels. It appears that Baty’s sense of possibility was not misplaced: in the decade following that summer’s literary block party, NaNoWriMo has grown exponentially: last year, over 119,000 people participated, according to the website for The Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit organization set up to run NaNoWriMo, among other endeavours. NaNoWriMo corporate sponsors include Amazon, Scrivener, FW Media, and literally dozens of individual sponsors who have donated sums of money anywhere from $10 to $2,500. Donations to NaNoWriMo underwrite the annual writing marathon, but more importantly, they fund the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, which is specifically targeted at classrooms, offering lesson plans and forums for teachers and opportunities for students to participate in deadline-driven events (tied to NaNoWriMo) meant to encourage the students’ enthusiasm for writing.

Which sounds like an undeniably noble endeavour, so it is perhaps churlish of me to complain that the whole premise behind the project (in both its adult and youth forms) is based on an erroneous perception of how novels are written, and why. According to the NaNoWriPo website, the goal of the project is to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and midnight on November 30, then upload this to the NaNoWriPo site for verification, at which point successful participants will be declared winners of that year’s challenge.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

All of which, again, sounds good in a kind of self-help, writer’s craft way; writers are encouraged to write without paying heed to the nasty editor in their heads, the one that tells them to refine, delete, excise, rework. The vocabulary of the NaNoWriMo site testifies to the way in which it has bought in to the tyranny of diminished expectations where writing is concerned. Instead of deliberation and focus, writers are encouraged to let loose and be free, and pay no heed to trifling matters such as talent or technique. Writers are encouraged to be great warriors who contact first thoughts and write from them. (In case you think I’m making that up, you are advised to consult a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, a heartfelt, new-agey text that could easily have served as the inspiration for NaNoWriMo.)

But this is not the way novels get written. One is reminded of Paul Sheldon, dreadfully injured in a car crash and trapped in a small cabin’s bedroom, frantically churning out the latest installment of his Misery Chastain series at the behest of his “number one fan.” But as Paul points out, novelists don’t work to artificially imposed deadlines (although their in-house editors would likely have apoplexy to hear that uttered out loud), and they don’t write to order. Novels – at least the ones that endure – take time, commitment, and patience, all things that are in short supply in today’s jacked-up, Internet-driven society, and all things that are antithetical to the very idea of NaNoWriMo. On one level, the only difference between Paul Sheldon and the participants in NaNoWriMo is that the latter don’t have a crazed Annie Wilkes standing over them with an axe and a blowtorch.

Additionally, NaNoWriMo entrenches the invidious notion that writing is less a craft to be learned than a hobby to be practiced on weekends and in snatches of spare time:

In 2008, we had over 120,000 participants. More than 20,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

The NaNoWriMo website offers the promise of recognition and sense of accomplishment, but says nothing about how this devalues the work of countless underpaid, underappreciated professional writers who have spent the better part of their lives honing their craft. Instead, it buys into the cult of celebrity that is inescapable in what passes for North American culture these days.

Perhaps I’m taking all of this way too seriously. It’s clear from reading the NaNoWriMo website that the organizers have no illusions about turning out works to rival Tolstoy or Dickens. Still, in a culture that increasingly marginalizes the important work that novelists do, I can’t help but feel a certain frisson surrounding this kind of literary challenge. NaNoWriMo supporters will line up to brand me an elitist, which has become one of the most damning insults conceivable in a society based around the “democracy” of the Internet. My response would be that novel writing is an inherently elitist activity. If it weren’t, everybody would be doing it.

James Frey and Michael Musto confirm what hundreds of editors already knew

October 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

(via Vanity Fair)

The “sadistic misogyny” of crime fiction: UPDATED

October 26, 2009 by · 11 Comments 

I posted about this one over on Quillblog, but I thought it bore repeating here, since it’s a subject that has concerned me personally for quite some time. Jessica Mann, the British novelist and, until very recently, crime fiction reviewer for the Literary Review, has told the Guardian that she will no longer review genre works because of what she sees as their “sadistic misogyny”:

“Each psychopath is more sadistic than the last and his victims’ sufferings are described in detail that becomes ever more explicit, as young women are imprisoned, bound, gagged, strung up or tied down, raped, sliced, burned, blinded, beaten, eaten, starved, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or buried alive,” she said.

“Authors must be free to write and publishers to publish. But critics must be free to say they have had enough. So however many more outpourings of sadistic misogyny are crammed on to the bandwagon, no more of them will be reviewed by me,” said Mann, who has written her own bestselling series of crime novels and a non-fiction book about female crime writers.

Some may see Mann’s stance as overly marmish; I tend to think she has a point that is at least worthy of consideration. When the psychotic serial killer Buffalo Bill used his female victims’ skins to make himself a woman’s suit in the thriller The Silence of the Lambs, the culture appeared to have reached a kind of ne plus ultra where such material was concerned; almost two decades later, Thomas Harris’s book and Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation appear almost quaint.

In her book, Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, Inga Muscio points out that one in every eight Hollywood movies features a rape scene. Prime-time television crime dramas such as Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation regularly contain plots involving the sexual degradation and exploitation of women. And let’s not even get into films like Captivity (when Clive Barker called horror fiction the last refuge of the chauvinist, I’m sure he couldn’t even conceive of something so execrable). Throughout our culture, the sexual debasement of women seems to be an acceptable subject for entertainment. (And here I make a distinction between books and films that use such subject matter as fodder for titillation, and those like Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, which try to take a more serious look at such material.)

Val McDermid, a crime writer who has been responsible for her share of violent plotlines, blames market forces for the increasing acceptability of extreme material in popular fiction: “There has been a general desensitisation among readers, who are upping the ante by demanding ever more sensationalist and gratuitous plotlines.” Certainly, in a culture that tolerates as entertainment such torture porn fare as the Hostel and Saw movies, there is an ever-escalating tendency to try to outdo what has come before; it is now incumbent upon writers and filmmakers to push the envelope ever further just to provide the same jolt of adrenaline for their audiences.

There are no doubt people who will suggest that Mann is making a mountain out of a molehill; that scenes of violence toward women in fiction have no demonstrated effect on people’s attitudes in the real world, and this might indeed be true. But the ubiquity of such material in our popular culture should at least give one pause for thought, it seems to me. Here in Canada, we base our obscenity laws on the rather vague metric of “community standards”; what kind of community standards are we promulgating if we agree that scenes of the most explicit sadism, misogyny, and degradation are acceptable fodder for entertainment? Am I being too prudish? Or is the slope really as slippery as it appears?

UPDATE: The original article from the Guardian‘s website, upon which this post was based, has been updated with the following notice:

This article was amended on Tuesday 27 October 2009. We previously said that one of the country’s leading crime writers and critics “is refusing to review new books” but that should have been “is refusing to review some violent new books.” This has been corrected.

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