Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Reviewing - Elvis Stojko

Elvis Stojko is arguably Canada's best figure skater ever. He is also evidently of the school of evaluative reviewers (as opposed to descriptive reviewers).

Exhibit A: Stojko's post about men's figure skating at the Vancouver Olympics.

The title is, "The night they killed figure skating."

Stokjo concludes with:

Figure skating gets no respect because of outcomes like this. More feathers, head-flinging and so-called step sequences done at walking speed – that’s what the system wants.

I am going to watch hockey, where athletes are allowed to push the envelope. A real sport.

He seems to be channelling his inner David Solway.

As I noted earlier:

Professional athletes face a phalanx of television cameras and newspaper reporters mere seconds after every single devastating loss (or celebratory victory). Politicians face the scrutiny of policy wonks, the media, and the heat of their colleagues in Question Period. Medical research progresses due to the rigour of peer review. Research and development in all fields depends on transparent, accountable, honest scrutiny of tentative conclusions. The world is a marketplace of ideas, John Milton said four centuries ago. The clash, conflict, and negotiation of ideas is the essence and root strength of democracy, which was exactly Ms. Roosevelt’s point. If we are to be afraid of anything, we must be afraid of silence. Silence is death. Silence does more than stagnate dialogue, it is the end of dialogue. Monologue (“everyone thinking alike”) is not just everyone thinking poorly; it is not thinking at all, as Orwell reminded us: 2+2=5 and WAR IS PEACE.

And yet silence is exactly the quality championed by many book reviewers.

Here's more of Stojko:

How can you be Olympic champion when you don’t even try the quad? If you’re going to take the quad out, why not take out another triple axel and just have more of the other stuff so the International Skating Union can make it more into an “art” recital.

Plushenko had a great performance. His footwork was great and maybe his spins weren’t quite as good as Lysacek’s, but it wasn’t that big of a difference. He also had a quad toe triple toe that wasn’t even attempted by anyone else. He did both triple axels, so all the jumps were there.

But the judges’ scoring was ridiculous.

Here's a quote from Solway's Director's Cut:

Our poets dress themselves up as renovators of the language without whom, presumably, people would be reduced to carrying out their ordinary discourse in grunts and pantomimes, like the speculators of Lagado. The contradiction here is that many of these same poets have already valorized common speech as the register in which they blithely continue to work.

A page later, he is blasting both the "simplifiers" and "complicators" (i.e., those poets who celebrate common speech and the academics who champion theory and obscurity). Neither group, says Solway, produce real poetry, as Stojko says these Winter Olympics are producing real figure skating competition.

Solway refers to sociologist Erving Goffman's study of "'selective disattention' to facts which would otherwise challenge the frame of discourse and perception we take for granted." Unfortunately, the example he provides to illustrate this point is infected with an error. He mentions "Bobby Hull" scoring a goal which won the Stanley Cup, even though his foot was in the crease, a violation of what was then an NHL rule. Of course, it was Bobby's son, Brett, who scored that goal. The point being, however, that mass delusion decends to allow us to forget the rule and accept the "reality."

Challenging the frame of discourse would be a good description of what Stojko is up to in his article. The reality he sees is different from the reality of the judges. Solway is equally attempting to articulate a classification system across a broad field of poets, a system meant to alert poetry readers to their slumbering predicament.

My point here isn't to suggest that I agree with these critics -- only to draw a parallel between them. This is criticism that is interesting to read and challenging to think about it.

I'll have more to say about Solway later, after I finish his book.

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