28 September 2000
I received an email today from Brad Tyer, the gentleman whose Houston Press article "Touched by an Angel" was the subject of a 16 March journal entry. I've reproduced Mr. Tyer's email directly below, along with my response. The exchange raises some rather interesting questions of textual analysis in my mind, which I explore in my response.
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Mr. Kevin Whited,
Today I ran across your web comments on Marshall Ball, triggered by my profile in the Houston Press. I can't say I disagree with your angle, but I'm certainjly [sic] disappointed at your comclusion [sic] that I'm an "obvious" admirer of the boy. I don't know if you bothered to read the entire article, and I certainly don't have any idea how sophisticated a reader you are, but the portrait you walked away with, of overhyped mediocrity at best, a cynical scam at worst, was precisely the portrait that I wrote, quite purposefully, to counteract any number of glowing and unquestioning portrayals of this same "genius" in other media. I'm pleased that you walked away, as I hoped my readers would, seeing through the flimsy scrim of hype that until then surrounded Marshall Ball, but it seems a bit much for you to blame me for hyping the kid, when all the information on which you base your conclusions was provided, very carefully, by me. Perhaps the fact that I presented the evidence on which a thinking person could base their [sic] own opinion, without overt personal editorializing is what confused you. In any case, I wanted to set you straight if I could. Thanks for reading. All best, Brad Tyer
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I'd like to thank you again for visiting the website and for providing your feedback. I try to promote thought and discussion here, and it's nice to see the results of those efforts.
I see a number of points in your email that I'd like to pursue in order:
1) You are not an obvious admirer of the young man in question
In retrospect, after revisiting the original article, I'll accept your statement. I think there's a great deal of sympathetic language, and I think the quote I used is illustrative of that. Perhaps when one is writing a feature on a young, handicapped child for the public presses, that's the language one must use lest one be accused of being "mean" or "unfair." I think it's possible to go overboard in an attempt to be objective and fair -- that is to say, in an attempt to avoid the accusation that one is "beating up" a target, one can be so eager to avoid that appearance as to be overly sympathetic. It's not an uncommon -- nor ineffective -- rhetorical technique, but it does leave one open to criticism and/or misinterpretation.
2) You meant to portray the entire incident as "overhyped mediocrity at best, a cynical scam at worst"
Then I got the point of your article. The author ---> text --> reader model worked beautifully! Your real quibble with me to this point is that I concluded you were an obvious admirer of the boy, when in fact you contend it wasn't obvious at all. In light of what I wrote above about rhetorical techniques, I'll accept your statement.
3) You meant only to provide "evidence on which a thinking person could base [his] own opinion without overt personal editorializing"
I think I've addressed the content of this point in my responses to (1) and (2) above. That's certainly a fair rhetorical technique, and I don't have any real objections.
4) It's unfair for me to "blame [you] for hyping the kid" when you've provided the data for me to reach a conclusion at all.
Now I have to ask you the courtesy of doing what I have done for you -- reread my own piece carefully. I don't blame you for hyping the kid, nor do I use language to that effect. I use your article as a vehicle to get to my own subject: the cultural elevation of mediocrity to greatness, what Nietzsche would call a transvaluation of values. In my penultimate paragraph, I ask what it says about "the culture" that writing like this (I'm referring to the boy's writing, not yours -- perhaps that is not as clear as it should be) and other "arts" are celebrated. In the paragraph preceding that one, when I speak of "THIS GARBAGE" I'm referring again to the boy's writing -- not your own! -- which should be clear from the sentence preceding the garbage reference. I don't see anything else that could be taken as an attack on you for hyping the child.
Since you write in your email about "overhyped mediocrity" I think to some degree we agree on my greater point. In fact, I found this paragraph of yours rather a nice twist and a far more subtle way of indicting society/culture than I did in my journal entry:
Marshall sates this hunger. . . .
Indeed he does (although I'm a little troubled by the implication here that it's difficult to know true genius from true oddities, but now is not the time for that)! And what that says about contemporary society and culture is a subject I'm constantly exploring!
Just a few final thoughts in closing. I'd like to thank you again for writing. Because the transmission of ideas via the written word is imperfect, sometimes exchanges like this add much needed context, not to mention that they can lead us further to develop our ideas. One thing I would discourage in your future communication with readers, however, is the sort of snide comment about their reading sophistication -- which would cause most people to react angrily, limiting the chance for productive and fruitful conversation off the bat. Your comment amused me -- of the people you've ever emailed off the net, what are the odds you'd be emailing someone whose doctoral level graduate work focused on advanced textual analysis techniques!? -- but such appeals to authority aren't likely to amuse most people, and aren't nearly as effective as sound logic, tight writing, and clear focus.
Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited