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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Top 20 book reviewing cliches

(H/T Kenan Malik.)

Oh noes, I've used quite a few of these in my time. Possibly more than once in some cases. Or than twice. I'm especially fond of "That said ..."

I have sinned - and will doubtless sin again!


NewEnglandBob said...

Left out, but should be included:


NewEnglandBob said...


Unknown said...

It seems to me that morals and ethics are themselves an easy to understand evolutionary pressure. I haven't thought this through much yet, but I'll try to quickly unpack the thought here.

Why we "ought" to act in a certain way, even when that way appears counter-intuitive to our own self-interest is this:

1. We recognize that if others make accommodations toward us, then it makes us happier, even if it makes those giving accommodation somewhat less happy; and,
2. We recognize that we will ourselves be less happy by accommodating others, but that we will not be afforded the accommodation of others if we are perceived to not be accommodating to others, but even more;
4. We are then evolutionarily programmed to feel a kind of happiness toward making accommodations that mitigates the unhappiness we feel by the loss of whatever is to our own interest we are giving up; and,
5. There are then competing happiness pressures, and the more we submit to the accommodation pressure, the more moral we are, but not necessarily more happy.

We then are making choices to maximize our happiness and it results in a balance between doing what is good for others and what is good for you. Then, your individual survival is at least partially derivative of the degree to which you choose to do good for others.

Happy and happiness may be squiffy terms to use here. Substitute your own better word. If I had to quickly say how "happiness" should be defined, I would say it is our own perception of the ease of our own future survival.

I think it is easy to see how cooperation could have given rise to the notion of morality. Mutual cooperation resulted in easier survival. Therefore, mutual cooperation became an evolutionary pressure. That pressure, though not wholly rational in every sense when it is felt, is then ascribed as morality by us. And we then use morality as a way to apply pressure to others.

If we are to ask ourselves why all members of an ant colony do their jobs so completely, I think it is easy to see that their survival efficiency is such because of this pressure to do good on behalf of the entire colony. We would likely call this job dedication "morality" if we were in their shoes. It is simple to understand. If the entire colony survives, then you survive easier than if you would alone.

Blake Stacey said...

These "clich├ęs" . . . don't seem that bad, really. One could write a good review using any or, in principle, all of them; one could write a trite and uninformative piece of hackwork using none. What's so wrong with calling a character portrayal "nuanced", if I explain what I mean and back it up with relevant passages and comparisons? What about the cases where an author strives to be lyrical or poignant or unflinching but fails spectacularly?

Using a list of no-no words as a substitute for deep thinking about what makes a good review is itself rather lazy.