Hatred has its uses

May 20, 2010

Dr Johnson once declared that he loved a good hater, but in "Drawing the venom from the poison pen of rancorous reviews" (13 May), Herminio Martins writes of the need for a code of practice in book reviewing. However, this overlooks the intimate historical relationship between critical reviewing and the traditions of English satire. Where some bad books are concerned, rancour, ridicule and venomous disdain are the only true and useful responses - the only appropriate service the reviewer can render the reader. And if a review is ignorant or petty-minded, then we credit the reader with the wit to notice.

Because the context is itself critical, there is no need for codes of consumer protection in this sphere. Readers make up their own minds about good and bad reviews. Hostile reviews promoting misunderstanding will be spotted by an academic public worth its salt. Cultural wars are precisely distinct from real wars because no blood is shed, but all reviewers risk feeling the heat in their turn. "Symmetry", if it is required, is achieved within a field of combat more extensive than the civil and legal relations between author and reviewer.

A constraint needs to be placed on the greedy advances of libel law into areas where it has no business. Martins' programme would anaesthetise cultural exchange and extinguish the vital necessity of good hating.

Philip Smallwood, School of English, Birmingham City University.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Artist Frank Boelter sitting in life-size paper boat

Creator of crowdfunding teaching tool says entrepreneurship courses should drop the traditional business plan as a method of assessment

Elly Walton illustration (25 August 2016)

Treating students as consumers has precipitated a rush to the bottom to give them exactly what they want, says John Warren

Superhero costumes hanging on a washing line

Senior management do not recognise support staff’s pivotal role in achieving positive student outcomes, administrators say

Man photocopying a book

Students think it ‘unfair’ to be punished for unintentional plagiarism

Child drives miniature car into people

Smaller, newer alternative providers are less likely to pass higher education review, analysis says