Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Response to a Pan

I was delighted to see that my book, Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films, had been reviewed in Rue Morgue #112 (June 2011). My delight persisted even when I saw the review was a pan. In part, this was because I subscribe to the writer's philosophy: "I don't read my reviews; I measure them" (this one measured 7 x 2 inches). But in addition, I knew that a negative review would give me more material for this blog than a positive one.

I'm not going to rebut every point in the review, because there are things I like about it. The reviewer, Justine Warwick, shows in a few places an understanding of author and book: "Ochoa is certainly a fan"; Ochoa makes some "interesting" and at least "mildly intriguing" points; Ochoa performs "some serious mental yoga"; "you start to wonder if Ochoa is not so much from an ivory tower as from another planet." Indeed, I have always felt as if I am from another planet, possibly Neptune.

However, I was alarmed, mostly for Warwick's sake, when she stumbled into the old reviewer's trap of one-eyed quoting. This is when, using one eye, you quote from a text to support a point while leaving out adjoining material that would undermine your point and that you presumably can't see because of your bad eye. Warwick one-eyed-quotes when, charging me with making "no acknowledgment of the cultural context" of horror film production, she quotes the following line from my book: "Ever since the story of Adam and Eve, there has been a notion that the first of a species must be male." But she leaves out the very next sentence: "It may be a backward patriarchal notion, but there it is." In that line, I suggest the cultural context of the notion--a backward, patriarchal culture--thus refuting her claim that I make "no acknowledgment" of cultural context. She would like me to add still more--such as that the culture in question is American and Judeo-Christian--but that doesn't help her absolute claim of "no acknowledgment" of cultural context.

This, however, is not my biggest beef with Warwick's review. My biggest problem is that she doesn't appear to know the difference between an argument and a proposition. Here is what she says: "his argument essentially falls at the first hurdle by being both too broad and a 'whole cloth' proposition." Do you see the slip in diction? According to her, my argument is a kind of proposition. But it is elementary logic that an argument is not a proposition. An argument is a group of propositions of which one is claimed to follow from the others. To weigh an argument it is necessary to examine the truth of the propositions and the validity or strength of the inferences.

Now with my book, this would have been easy to do, because most of the argument for my theory of deformed and destructive beings (DDBs) is made in Chapter 1. It's all of thirteen pages. But at no point does Warwick engage with this argument and say where the logical flaws are. I know, it's only a review, but if my theory is so wrong you'd think she could have found at least one objection to make to a premise or inference establishing the theory. To make room, all she would have had to do is cut one or more of her ad hominems, which have no logical weight, no matter how they are multiplied.

Instead, Warwick spends most of her time misunderstanding the rhetorical strategy of the book, although it is stated explicitly more than once. After Chapter 1, most of the book is not concerned with proving DDB theory, but demonstrating its usefulness--showing what "can be done with the theory" (as the preface states) in various areas of understanding the horror film. Had Warwick noticed any of these passages, she would not have talked about my setting out "to prove that every element of every horror film is devoted to presenting the DDB." After Chapter 1, I am not setting out to prove anything like this; just to show how interesting and fruitful the theory is. If it seems interesting--and Warwick admits it sometimes does--that is what I wanted to accomplish.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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