Grotesque Anatomy
Monday, May 17, 2004
  Review Reaction Reflection (Part 1)

[WARNING!  Boring semantic argument hinging on suspect distinction ahead.  Don't say you weren't warned.]

Reflecting on the recent disagreement that erupted between Johanna Draper Carlson and Laura Gjovaag (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, I think pretty much in that order), James Schee wonders, "Review or Commentary?"  At issue is whether Johanna's short remarks regarding Aquaman #18 constitute an actual review.  Laura thinks they do (and that they form a bad one on top of that); Johanna thinks they don't.  My take is that it all depends on what you mean by "review."  I think the term is generally used in two ways, narrowly and broadly.  In the narrow sense, a review is a longer, more thorough examination of a work.  As The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, puts it, a review is "a report or essay giving a critical estimate of a work or performance."  Since one paragraph is hardly an essay, Johanna's comments do not constitute a review in the strict sense.

However, many people use "review" more loosely to refer to any evaluative commentary.  Consider Christopher Butcher's description of my comments on Nausicaä:
Just this week I read a good review of Nausicaa (amongst some other great books) by John Jakala at his blog. Go check it out, it’s a great review and sums up some of the elements I enjoy about the series.
Going by the strict definition of "review," my short paragraph on Nausicaä hardly passes muster:  Basically all I did was ramble on about how I was unable to pinpoint what it was I liked about Nausicaä, and when I couldn't figure out how to tie up my digressions, I cheated and tried to distract everyone with a pretty picture.  But in thanking Chris for his kind words, I myself referred to my scattered thoughts as a review.  Why?  Well, part of it probably stems from my personal philosophy of reviewing.  I think the most important function of a review is to stimulate discussion about a work.  So in that sense, if my short remarks (or Johanna's) inspire thought, then they strike me as a review.  (I'm not saying everything that provokes a reaction counts as a review.  I see it as a necessary condition but not sufficient.  Hopefully I'll be able to delineate exactly what I see as the boundaries of a review when I get around to writing my own philosophy of reviewing.)  Another part of it is, well, that's just the way people often seem to use the word.

I've been mindful of the distinction before, even if I've never written about it explicitly til now.  In trying to come up with titles for entries about my reactions to comics, I often skirt the issue by avoiding the term altogether.  Last week's entry, for example, only referred to "Spring Reading" not "Spring Reviewing."  And for posts where I quickly run down a bunch of books, I usually use some variation of the title "Quick Cuts."  (Earlier this month I slipped with the DC books and used "DCU Quick Reviews," mainly because I liked the small rhyme in the title.)  Rigorous reviews take more effort than I'm generally willing to put into my writing (plus I'm never happy with any one format for very long) so I usually take the easy way out and write less formal reactions in whatever style happens to appeal to me at the moment.  I don't mind if anyone refers to such informal writings as reviews, but I'll also understand if people think of them as hastily assembled opinions from someone too lazy to do proper reviews.

Next:  To What Should That Attribute Be Attributed?
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by John Jakala

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