Thoughts without a thinker

First posted May 31

Okay, now you know all. I said last week ‘For reasons which I will explain another day, the publisher became nervous’; now you know the reasons. I must say, given the way the article is worded, and given the headline, I understand the publisher’s reaction better, and I regret the slightly acid tone of my post.

The article is, frankly, worded in a rather peculiar way. There’s a very noticeable lack of attribution throughout – there are free-floating feelings and reactions with no actual people having them or expressing them or taking ownership of them. There are fears and concerns and suggestions, but the reader can’t tell whose fears and concerns and suggestions they are.

Well I can tell you. I have privileged information here, so I can tell you. No one’s. They are no one’s fears and concerns and suggestions. This is not altogether surprising, since the book is not out yet, and very few people have read it. I suppose it could be that some people could have read about the book, and developed fears and concerns, and told the journalist, Christine Toomey, about them – but it seems very unlikely, and the fears and concerns would have to be awfully vague and amorphous. The article makes it sound as if (without actually saying) there are real people who have real fears and concerns about the actual content of the actual book – but there can’t be any such people, because they can’t have read the book. You see what I mean? Of course you do. So that makes it odd to talk about fears and concerns and suggestions.

An academic book about religious attitudes to women is to be published this week despite concerns it could cause a backlash among Muslims because it criticises the prophet Muhammad for taking a nine-year-old girl as his third wife…This weekend, the publisher, Continuum, said it had received “outside opinion” on the book’s cultural and religious content following suggestions that it might cause offence.

What Toomey doesn’t say there is that the ‘suggestions that it might cause offence’ came from Toomey. That’s how all this got started. Toomey interviewed the publisher, and that’s when the publisher decided to get outside opinion. (The ecumenicist by the way behaved very well. The ecumenicist put aside his likes and dislikes, and judged it on impartial grounds. The ecumenicist is impressive.) That last sentence really should say ‘This weekend, the publisher, Continuum, said it had received “outside opinion” on the book’s cultural and religious content after I suggested that it might cause offence.’ As it is the article creates the impression that there is already a set of people who have fears and concerns about the book. There isn’t.

It’s all rather odd, really. It’s like another Denise Spellberg except it’s one who likes the book as opposed to hating it. Toomey does great reporting, but I don’t think much of this anticipatory ‘there could be a backlash’ approach. It’s too closely related to internalized self-censorship. Saying a book is controversial is one thing, but sounding a warning is another.

Still – it’s always nice to be noticed eh?

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