An epic blunt review

As researchers, we review many a paper and books. The material ranges from the excellent to the really bad. And then there are submission where one wonders ‘what were those authors thinking!?!’ Matt Cartmill provides an example what one can do with material in the latter category. This ‘epic review’ of the book “Primate Visions: Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science” by Donna Haraway was published in the International Journal of Primatology (vol 12 issue 1, 1991). Here’s the first paragraph:

This is a book that contradicts itself a hundred times; but that is not a criticism of it, because its author thinks contradictions are a sign of intellectual ferment and vitality. This is a book that systematically distorts and selects historical evidence; but that is not a criticism, because its author thinks that all interpretations are biased, and she regards it as her duty to pick and choose her facts to favor her own brand of politics. This is a book full of vaporous, French-intellectual prose that makes Teilhard de Chardin sound like Ernest Hemingway by comparison; but that is not a criticism, because the author likes that sort of prose and has taken lessons in how to write it, and she thinks that plain, homely speech is part of a conspiracy to oppress the poor. This is a book that clatters around in a dark closet of irrelevancies for 450 pages before it bumps accidentally into its index and stops; but that is not a criticism, either, because its author finds it gratifying and refreshing to bang unrelated facts together as a rebuke to stuffy minds. This book infuriated me; but that is not a defect in it, because it is supposed to infuriate people like me, and the author would have been happier still if I had blown out an artery. In short, this book is flawless, because all its deficiencies are deliberate products of art. Given its assumptions, there is nothing here to criticize. The only course open to a reviewer who dislikes this book as much as I do is to question its author’s fundamental assumptions—which are big-ticket items involving the nature and relationships of language, knowledge, and science.

It has been blogged a few days ago by Evgeny Morozov and reblogged quite a few times (e.g., here, where read it first). They noted the 9-page review was behind an academic paywall, which has been miraculously lifted by now. The remainder of the review backs up the above-quoted statements, and has a ‘nice’ finishing touch at the end:

In its denial of external reality as something given, its obsession with motifs of dominance and power, and its rejection of logical dualisms (war is peace, freedom is slavery, and what is untrue is above all not simply false, and vice versa), the postmodernist sensibility displayed in this book is strangely reminiscent of the official philosophy of Orwell’s posttotalitarian state.


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