Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Resisting "Resisting Entropy"
Quick question: What's the last "review essay" published in CCC you can name without searching?
I couldn't come up with a title, much less the names of all of the books in any review essay. I recall reading Kris Blair's piece (had to look up the title: "New Media Affordances and the Connected Life") from CCC 63.2, but I could only remember three of the five books covered in that review: Dilger and Rice's From A to <A>: Keywords for Markup because I already own a copy, and two others because I knew something beforehand about their authors and would claim an interest in their work. Otherwise, working from memory, I can't come up with much--a vague recollection of another review essay by Schilb and one more by Villanueva on style. After reading the Villanueva review essay, I picked up a copy of Holcomb and Killingsworth's Performing Prose, but that was as much motivated by a Twitter exchange with a colleague as by the review.
Thus, when I started to see an unusually high level of discussion circulating about Geoff Sirc's "Resisting Entropy," a review essay published in the latest issue of CCC (Feb. 2012, 63.3), my first thought was something like, "Well, this sure is an awful lot of activity for a review essay." People were discussing it on Twitter, but I also received an email message from a student on the same day NCTE circulated the bulk email announcing the issue--an email message bringing up several questions and concerns based on things Sirc wrote. I hadn't read the then-day-old review yet, but I hurried my pace in getting to it.
As far as I know, review essays covering multiple books began appearing in CCC seven or eight years ago. Before that reviews focused on single titles. The review essay provides readings of and recommendations for a small collection of titles, presumably titles that have come out in the last three or so years and that share a topical thread. And as I understand it, there are a few motives behind the switch to review essays: 1) they are more tightly packed than individual book reviews , 2) they promote a more rigorous appearing scope which in turn justifies known scholars to write them, 3) the known scholar bi-line gets people to read them, and 4) clustering multiple books into one review essay means readers will encounter book reviews at the edge of (and perhaps just beyond) titles they would have otherwise already been likely to check out.
I've read Sirc's review essay, and although I realize it is poor cccarnival mmmanners to sidestep much substantive discussion of the article itself, all I want to say for now is that I appreciated the candor in his definitively recommending (or in not recommending, as the case may be) each of the four titles subject to review. The essay is polemic. Fine. It even toes the line between unapologetic critique and demolition-ball tear-down. But, despite however much or little I agree with Sirc in specific moments (i.e., there are points that resonate, others that trouble and confuse; I may well elaborate on a few in another entry), I know where he stands on these titles, and these titles become more decidable as a result. I want that nudge toward decidability from a review essay, and I suspect Sirc's "Resisting Entropy" is one CCC readers will remember for awhile--both for the hot stove arguments the essay stokes and for the titles covered in doing so.
Posted by Derek Mueller at February 21, 2012 4:30 PM to Unspecified