Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.06.33

Kennell on Busch on Kennell on Busch.   Response to 2000.06.10



Response by Stefanie A. H. Kennell, Memorial University of Newfoundland (skennell@morgan.ucs.mun.ca)

I was shocked to find Mr. Busch so hurt by my review.1 I had supposed that book reviews, particularly in this journal, are meant to express one reader's considered judgement. I believed that a well-written review should give a book's potential readers an impression of that book precise enough to help them determine whether they want to read it but not so pedantic as to induce sleep.

Clearly Mr. Busch has a different conception of what the ideal book review should be. Individual taste, balanced appraisal, and literary value have no place in his kind of review, which exists solely to gratify authors and publishers, not inform readers. Rigorous proofs supported by full bibliographies may be more to his liking. Only German readers are truly able to evaluate his work and, consequently, to note errata. That a good scholarly book ought to be both accurate and readable is a concept dear to English-speaking scholarship. B.'s snide reaction to my comments regarding the book's typographical conventions and principles of arrangement, however, indicates his inability to comprehend it. Having asked, "why is she unable or unwilling to make the simple deduction that small font was used to set digressions on details aside from the main body of the text?" he does not justify the ubiquity of that font's use, which I noted in my itemized observations (paragraphs 6-11) on specific sections of the text. With some rethinking, many of these small-print digressions could have been greatly reduced, on the principle that cumbersome dissertations make better books when revised to become more concise and reader-friendly. Small fonts and unitalicized titles are conventional among the preeminent publishers of the German-speaking world, as I am aware, but since the audience of this journal is largely Anglophone, I thought it more important to alert that audience to potential impediments than to advertise my own competence for the author's benefit.

And so we come to the issue that forces me to respond: basic competence. As far as I can determine from his relentless hostility of his outpourings, B. is unprepared to admit that someone whose first language is not German could form a reasonable conception of what his book is about. Unless, it seems, unqualified admiration for his unprecedented accomplishment is the only thing she artlessly expresses. So he cannot merely disagree, but must assert, in his so-considerate choice of words, that I "discredit" myself "throughout the review" instead of justifying his work.

How does Mr. B. demonstrate my malicious incompetence "throughout the review?" By deciding to censure only the first five paragraphs, which address questions of format, plus the conclusion. He completely disregards the six paragraphs in which I discuss his treatment of specific groups of epigraphical poetry in detail. At the start, he wilfully misconstrues the end of the first paragraph where, despite the reservations subsequently articulated, I wished to indicate the book was indeed technically competent, which cannot be said of all books, including not a few in English. B. confidently asserts, "she obviously did not mean what she wrote" because what follows is a "rhetorically-laden trashing" of his work. If, as he declares, I had wanted to "trash" his book, I would not have bothered with such a "pro-forma compliment" of my victim in a ("rhetoric-laden", rather) simulacrum of solicitude.

I did read the section which includes the "Versus Balnearum" poem. If the ambiguities of this tiny text are so apposite that he borrows its title for his whole work, why is it embedded in so deeply inconspicuous a spot? And another thing contrary to what B. thinks, Claudian's poem does concern itself with (56-66) man-made hydraulic improvements at the bathing facility, not just Aponus "as a purely natural spring." I continue to query his index classifications, as he did not condescend to explain what rationale underlies the keyword arrangement of Category 7, "res balneariae", why "emperor-cult" isn't in Category 9, or why Aponus is just a hot spring, not a toponym or a god.

As for typographical errors, I retract nothing. No one I know uses the services of a professional proofreader either, but there are recommended ways of dealing with one's proofs. Everyone knows that fatigue sets in after the first couple of hundred pages, and some mistakes always escape detection; nonetheless, nine of the lapses I had the in-"decency" to cite occur before p. 200, some in prominent positions. B. crosses the line when he states that that I have no right to comment on the book's orthography and suggests that the problem is that "concepts such as constructive criticism and fair play are more foreign to Ms Kennell than the German language itself." I must therefore observe the same of his grasp of English style and tone. It is patent in his characterization of the entire review as filled with a "rhetoric of rage" dependent "on insinuation and misrepresentation"; in fact, I was striving to be both precise and tactful. His insistence on interpreting the regret implicit in the review's penultimate sentence "Had B's advisers and the publisher nurtured these critical reflections into a properly documented conclusion, it would have made a fitting end to the book promised by the title" as a "censure" of his reviewers and publisher would, in another age, require a duel. Happily, this is not old Heidelberg.

Like the student who demands a second reading of his examination paper, expecting to receive a higher final mark, Mr. B. has put himself at greater risk. This occurs when he accuses me of either not reading, not understanding, or simply ignoring a key sentence in his introduction. He translates: "To date, there is no comprehensive collection of bath epigrams, both Greek and Latin, that includes both those transmitted by literary sources as well those known from inscriptions... The present book takes up ALL EPIGRAMS that are connected with the Roman baths and, more specifically, with baths of the Imperial period within the confines of the Roman Empire." Then he accuses me of "almost Orwellian doublethink" when I criticize the book's principles of selection and organization. I maintain that the manner in which B's chapters and subsections are arranged is not an effective way of presenting so great a number and variety of epigrams. B. himself says this "collection of material is virtually identical with" a corpus. But he wants to have his cake and eat it too. This "virtual" corpus has been excused from the discipline peculiar to that scholarly genre. After Section 1, Sections 2-4 and the appendices look like afterthoughts, and even in the first section, the divisions and subdivisions of material that B. believed would expedite comparison of themes and motifs possess a logical clarity evident only to B. himself. Encumbered by its multitude of discrete commentaries that do not add up to a coherent interpretation of the material, the book is not a lucid essay, either. Assembling all the literature one can find about every likely detail is no substitute for making up one's mind; it simply devolves the exercise of judgement onto one's readers. B.'s hope that his quasi-corpus is "presented in a form that is ... more easily read by the general public" is a fond one.

Most readers will know that the phrase "the big picture" does not denote a monolithic entity but the comprehensive contextualization of individually articulated details. B. insists that the details are the big picture. If so, it is a great many pictures so tiny that, when we stand far enough away to see them, they disappear. The allusion in my conclusion, by the way, was to "Mission: Impossible." To the last, B. slashes determinedly away, making no effort to reply to any of the issues I tried to raise. In his self-promoting words, the book is "a broad, rich and detailed canvas that scholars interested in the literary and cultural history of the Roman period may treat in a nearly endless number of ways." One man's tapestry is another's patchwork quilt.


Notes:


1.   Note from the Editors: We remind our readers that BMCR policy is to allow reviewees to respond to reviews, then to allow reviewers one further response. If parties to a conversation wish to continue beyond this point, they are invited to find another venue.

Read Latest
Index for 2000
Change Greek Display
Archives
Books Available for Review
BMCR Home

HTML generated at 13:26:53, Friday, 03 April 2009