On Reviewing: Vanessa Place

LH: What do you think the purpose of a review is? If you also write about books on a blog, why? What does blogging let you do differently?

VP: The purpose of a review is to discriminate. Discrimination is how we find good friends and know which strangers to shoot on sight.

LH: If you write reviews, how would you describe your approach, or method? Do you offer or engage in exegesis, theoretical, academic, reader response, close, contextual or evaluative readings? If you don’t write but read reviews, what aspects of reviewing do you notice?

VP: I argue with the work. I take it on face value and see if it stands scrutiny and thumps on the skull. Is it a fine thing among fine things of its kind? Is it a terrible thing, or is it the kind of second-rate thing that Eliot commended as that lesser version of fine from which we may learn or crib something for ourselves.

LH: What do you think makes for a successful review? Is there an aspect, a stylistic choice, or perspective that necessarily produces a more significant document?

VP: The three-beat review form (bio/biblio intro, book m.o., critical close) is horrible, as is the practice of reviewers reviewing work that is a type of work they categorically don’t like. Though it seems particularly stupid to me when writer-reviewers disapprove entire forms of their art—like standing in the Louvre and waving dismissively at the Baroque–the great review is one that approaches the corpus curiously and dissectively, determining if it works and what makes it tick.

LH: When you review, do you focus on a particular text (poem, story), the book at hand, the author’s body of work? Do you think this choice of focus influences criticism, or your own criticism, and if so, how?

VP: The question is the answer: the text should be emblematic of something; the author should be working on a body of work.

LH: If you also write non-critical work, how different is the way you approach reviewing or critical writing to the way you approach your own “creative” writing?

VP: Rhetoric is a medium; I suspect I convey many of the same things via different rhetorical gestures.

LH: Have you been in a position where you have had to write about a book that you don’t care for, or a book that is coming out of a tradition that you are perhaps opposed to, or resistant to on some level? How do you handle such events? Or how have you noticed others handle these events?

VP: As noted above, hate should be as specific as love.

LH: What is the last piece of writing that convinced you to a/ reconsider an author or book you thought you had figured out, or had a final opinion on or b/ made you want to buy the book under review immediately?

VP: I had to order Erin Mouré’s translation of Chus Pato’s m-Talá immediately after reading Mouré’s review of Lisa Robertson’s Debbie. I was right.

LH: Is there a quality you are looking for in a review that you haven’t found?

VP: The tangle and slip of honest engagement. One finds it, but it is rare.

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend? Do you see this trend reversing, or changing course?

VP: I imagine I will; what money there is is never much money. Though I prefer to work within a conversational context, whether the conversation is internally institutionalized (within the journal, via the editors or other reviewers) or externally institutional (in relation to other modes of real critique, such as may be found on some blogs).

LH: What do you hope to achieve by writing about writing? Do you believe that reviews can actually bring new readers to texts?

VP: Like flies. And, like flies, drive others away. But my deeper ambition, as previously confessed, is to figure out what ghosts our spined machines.

Vanessa Place is a writer, a lawyer, and co-director of Les Figues Press. She is author of Dies: A Sentence (2006), La Medusa (2008), and Notes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Robert Fitterman (2009). Her nonfiction book, The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and Law is forthcoming from Other Press/Random House. A work of conceptual poetry using her legal writing will be published in France by éditions è®e, as Exposé des Faits, and as a trilogy in English by Blanc Press: Statement of Facts, Statement of the Case, and Argument. (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanessa_Place ) Place currently reviews poetry for Fence, and art, most frequently for X-TRA.

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