An amusing article by Jeanette DeMain on Salon.com about Amazon one-star reviews of classic books caught my eye. Its thesis is that for every book our culture (or likely, you in particular) finds great, there’s likely a horrific review of it posted.
Now, of course many of these reviews are by semi-literate anti-intellectual assholes. Still, I think that history and other factors inevitably drive a wedge between current readers and classic works, and it requires getting used to a different style of storytelling, different cultural norms mixed up in the works, different agendas, etc. to appreciate the work.
So, yes, you can strive to learn enough to be a competent reader of Shakespeare, but there’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t have the stamina to do that or that, despite how anti-intellectual it may make you look, you actually don’t enjoy reading Shakespeare, or Brontë, or Thomas Hardy or whomever your high school teachers tried to get you to appreciate.
I tend not only to “see” (i.e. abstractly recognize) the works I’ve given substantial time to in both a positive and negative light, but I feel (i.e. viscerally react to depending on my mood) these aspects as well. My “guilty pleasures” are not purely pleasurable, and (as should be clear from the podcasts) I find many of the works I admire to be painful. I think it’s a mistake to try to resolve this ambivalence. Yes, it’s rewarding to work past the barriers into appreciating something, but it’s also pleasurable to bitch about it. One can, without hypocrisy, do both.
I’ve only taken a second here to look up low-star reviews on philosophy works. Here are some amusing partial dismissals of Plato’s Republic. Interestingly, I couldn’t find any one-star reviews of the first few Plato listings at all apart from one person criticizing the vendor’s delivery practices.
I did, however, find a one-star review of Descartes’s Meditations:
This review is from: Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, 4th Ed. (Paperback)
Descartes seems like the sort of guy who likes the sound of his own voice, not unlike a philosophy professor! He has only a handful of points, a few of them interesting but the majority pure academic fluff, and he spends over 100 pages just reiterating his ideas and logic behind them. It seemed like a modern editor would read the manuscript, and whittle it down to a maximum of 25 pages. I am not surprised that various classes on philosophy only use excerpts of Descartes’ work.
Feel free to reply to this post with anything amusing you run across.