February 13, 2013

Criticism on top of Criticism

Recently, Bookforum ran a review of Betsy Prioleau’s  (who has, in case you didn’t know, a PhD) book, Swoon, Great Seducers and Why We Love Them in which the reviewer, Charlotte Shane, gave it a less than glowing critique. Shane derides the book for its implicit problems, many of them read like a syllabus for a class Dr. Prioleau should have probably taken in grad school on how not to assume people are mere stereotypes and controlled by their animal-bodies:

On racism:

50 Cent to task for rapping that he prefers “having sex” to “making love” (she calls him a “spawn-of-Satan impersonator”). But notorious philanderers like Ben Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Jack Nicholson, and Warren Beatty are among her “great seducers,” held up as role models for contemporary men.

Often considered the Casanova of his time. 

On pickup artists:

She strikes ugly notes early on when she dismisses today’s pick-up artists as only being able to bed “desperate” and “sad, lonely” women like “strippers” and “ladies with ‘porn star’ skills.” Her lauded seducers, in contrast, win over “premier” and “superior” women, which proves they’re real men, not “boys or sissies.” Women are “particularly susceptible to mind spells” and unusually difficult to understand, which is why it takes “a gay man in a straight man’s body” to be able to figure them out.

They also enjoy something known as Peacocking, which vaguely explains the hat, but really explains nothing at all. 

On the passive woman as ideal:

Accordingly, female passivity is assumed and even championed. The aforementioned excellent women need only be in the right place at the right time to find themselves chosen by a seducer; no effort on their part is required, least of all sexual self-knowledge. Statistics on “female sexual dysfunction” are presented without critique and it’s understood that all a woman needs is the right man in order to achieve life-altering orgasms. (Similarly unquestioned is the use of orgasm as sexual scoring device.)

Read the full critique here – and be sure to read the comments. What would have been a painful but ultimately forgettable review was made absurd when Dr. Prioleau decided to attack her negative review, and to do so in a way that any basic composition course would tell you to avoid: oh Ad Hominems, will you never go out of style?

Dr. Prioleau writes:

This is my first review by a prostitute—and a first book review for this prostitute (to my knowledge). I have no quarrel with prostitutes, as long as they know how to read. But “Nightmare Brunette,” as she calls herself, apparently didn’t read SWOON. I never suggested that ladies’ men are role models; I say off the bat that they happen to have a big secret—what rocks women—which we can harvest and put to positive uses. “Racism, sexism, classism?” What was she smoking? I profile at least five African Americans, celebrate “hot choosers” (ultra-feminists), and boldface the theme of classlessness among ladykillers. And her view of what I say they have in common is a figment of her imagination. I’m frankly shocked that a publication as distinguished as Bookforum would publish such a lowbrow, dishonest, and poorly executed critique. And I welcome smart criticism! Betsy Prioleau, Ph.D.

They ought to give these out with the diplomas. 

Ah yes, no one would have never known that Charlotte Shane was a prostitute if it had not been brought up – three times. We can assume that Dr. Prioleau  is being generous in saying that she has no problem with prostitutes, provided they are literate, though I’d like to see what illiterate man or woman could write such a critical and thoughtful critique, regardless of profession (and, anyway, Shane is also a writer, and a good one). But the Doctor, like any socialized man who was taught to hate women (and desire them with equal fervor) begins with the old comeback: Your criticism is not valid because your place in the world is not valid. But good job learning how to read. That’s very good of you.

There is a reason why, in workshops, the writer must remain silent while the others discuss the work. Once it is out, published, with our names emblazoned on our words and put up on shelves or on online markets for those who have the means to access them, whether that be through literacy or cash (or the means to download them illegally, which we at the Missouri Review do not encourage), it’s free game. You cannot control how the reader is going to interpret your work, and you certainly cannot control who is going to read the work, and what their experiences are which they bring into their analysis. You have to trust that what you wrote is good, that it will stand up on its own merit, and take faith that, bad review or not, you are proud of what you have put out.

All I can tell from Dr. Prioleau is that her feelings were hurt, and that she lashed out against the reviewer, and then the place which hosted the review as well. I may have been encouraged to read the book after Shane’s review to see if it was really that bad, but after the emotionally-ugly response from the author, I have no intention of doing so – especially since, in her protest, she proves her classism.

About Alison Balaskovits

Alison A. Balaskovits is a Ph.D. student in Fiction at the University of Missouri and the Social Media Editor of the Missouri Review. You can follow her on twitter @aabalaskovits or at aabalaskovits.com

2 Responses to Criticism on top of Criticism

  1. It looks like a ridiculously textbook example of a person who has been called out for oppressive statements automatically jumping back into their bubble of privilege in which they are allowed to assume that no one should criticize them, and indeed believing that criticizing them for their bad behavior is exactly the same as the oppressive/bigoted remarks they’re accused of in the first place. It’s like how you might tell a man that his statements are oppressive and informed by his privilege as a man, and he responds with cries of “misandry!” and “you’re being sexist against me!