Will You Chew Until It Bleeds?

In reading a book recently, I came across a passage that discussed the author’s own thoughts about negative interactions with book reviewers. I must say, personally, that I have not yet had any negative interactions with reviewers of my writing. That is not to say that such a thing will never happen, although it has not happened yet. I have certainly came across people who were critical of my writings, but such difficulties were not on my side. That said, I have had at least a few negative interactions with authors who took offense to my adverse reactions of their books of the books of their friends and associates, and some of them reacted quite negatively to me as a reviewer because I found fault with a work that they participated in or that they strongly identified with. On at least one or two occasions I have found myself to be the subject of troll attacks against my writings by people who took offense to something I said, and the result has left me rather hostile to the people involved, so that in the future I will have little positive to say about any work they are involved in, no matter how good it may be, just because they themselves are such colossal tools and deserve to be taken down a few notches.

Obviously, this should not be the case. It is frequently the case that people are both prolific readers as well as prolific writers at the same time. So when we read the books of others, it is often to be noted that if we are writers, we will often have a sense of empathy in that even to the extent that we are inclined to be harsh on a book, we will also be aware that other people will view our writings through their own perspective and not our own, and will review and critique accordingly just as we do from our own perspective and worldview. There are many times where it is precisely the gulf in worldview and commitments between the authors I read and myself that leads to a great deal of bad feelings about works. Frequently authors writing from their worldview think of their own conclusions and statements as self-evident truths, but frequently find that not to be the case when other readers come at things from a different angle. And, truth be told, the same thing happens to us. Very often I have found that my own accounts of a given situation or a given event were very different from that of other people, sometimes to unrecognizable degrees. If I have been frequently shocked by such differences, I have also found them to be highly intriguing and thought-provoking in demonstrating the differences in how people can see the world.

And that is one reason why we should not get mad at readers, even readers who see the world in antagonistic ways to our own. If we do not always appreciate how our words are interpreted, it is at least useful (if painful) to see that what we cherish as obvious and self-evident truths may be viewed by others as self-evident lies. What we consider to be obvious implications others may consider to be wholly unwarranted speculations. What we fail to notice and comment upon others consider to be the heart of the matter. And the same is true in reverse. Quite frequently I find that writers write without considering the sort of people who will come across their works and the perspectives and worldviews they will bring to that. Very frequently what a writer means as a humorous comment of self-effacing mock humility, a reader will take offense at. I found this to be the case when I found myself receiving a great deal of hostility from fans of the excellent Dutch rock band Golden Earring, until at least a few of them helpfully pointed me towards ways I could become more familiar with their body of work. Less humorously, I have found that what I viewed to be generous and moderate critiques of works with serious worldview errors were viewed by the writers and their friends and associates as the gospel truth, for which critique was unwelcome and unappreciated. It has been a great irony in the course of my reading and reviewing that those who are the most hostile to the truth claims of the Bible in areas like history and morality and theology view themselves as gospel authorities just as harshly and with as little tolerance for deviance as the most strict fundamentalist. To the extent that we had more humility about ourselves and about our own supposed insights, we would be more welcome of those things that served to critique us. But it is as truth as authors as it is of book critics (including myself, it must be admitted), that while we like to critique, we do not appreciate being critiqued. If that is hypocrisy, it is a major aspect of our age that causes so much difficulty between people, all of whom have something to point out about the negative aspects of the world, but who wish to view themselves as being in a privileged position from which they can seek to delegitimize any critique that is brought against them.

As writers and readers we often cannot help but be part of conversations much larger than ourselves. To write about the relationship between the writer and the reader is to engage in a discussion about communication that has gone on for millennia. Even 3500 years ago or so, writers sought to manipulate the feelings of their readers through the careful presentation of a particular point of view and through the adoption of a rhetorical tone that sought to stir others to action and motivate them to take a course of action that would, of course, benefit the writer. Whether we look at the dialogues of Plato (or writings by others like Xenophon who have a different perspective of Socrates than Plato did), or if we look at the synoptic gospels or those less faithful ones written by various heretics about Jesus Christ, we will easily recognize that perspective matters a lot when we are writing about events, even those events we have seen and participated in. Neutrality has always been impossible when we have dealt with matters about which we have any opinion, and indifference does not make for an encouraging attitude to approach a subject, since if we do not care, we will act and write and research as if we do not care, and that will benefit no one, least of all ourselves. And yet caring will bring with it a bias that must be recognized even if we cannot help but have one in all too many cases. Yet our biases do not discredit us, so long as we are aware that our own perspective does not matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, even if it matters a great deal to ourselves.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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