The importance of mediation

Many critics claim they avoid reading other reviews until they’ve filed theirs. The reasons: “I don’t want to be influenced” or “I want to preserve the sanctity of my reaction” or “I don’t have time,” the last of which is really the only legitimate. Apart from being next to impossible in the post-Internet age, the insulation presumes that our reviews are original creations, untainted by any number of phenomena, from the quality of the download to the hangover we’re nursing.

Also, what’s wrong with being influenced? Other reviews can often signal directions; they posit starts and points of departure. Depending on word limit, quoting a passage written by a colleague creates a healthy ferment — a conversation, say. At worst the quotes provide cultural context. Especially for film reviews — when I anticipate Anthony Lane, Glenn Kenny, and David Edelstein’s responses — I read four or five reviews. Often their arguments marinate my reactions as I’m watching. My prose and acuity could use further sharpening, but fifteen years of professional and academic writing would be worthless if by now I hadn’t mastered a style and assembled a method. But the myth of interpretation bereft of mediation continues.

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