by J J Cohen
"Of Giants reads like a hastily written dissertation hastily rewritten soon after graduation. It might have been better in its original form -- or at least less sloppy ... The book contradicts its own generalizations with gay abandon ... His carelessness about his own ideas is echoed in a carelessness about the ideas of others ... What then is even the purpose of the book? It does not offer new scholarship (Cohen is in fact scrupulous in giving credit to scholars and critics whose work he depends upon). It does not theorize a new function or significance for giants. It does not offer new readings of either canonical or underrated medieval texts. It does not set itself up as answering any question I can remember here at the end of the reading experience. I was continually wondering why it existed ... I'll attach a page or two of my eleven pages of quibbles as a sample."
The two dense pages of quibbles that follow range from complaints about the "deranged reference system" to wondering how metaphors generated around discussion of AIDS could possibly have anything to say to the Middle Ages to the declaration that "'envalue' is a horrid neologism" to insisting that xenophobia and racism cannot apply to medieval imaginings of Ethiopians or other Africans because "they are not living in close contact" to anyone in Europe to the exclamation that the work "makes no sense!"
And thus Cornell University Press rejected my future book Of Giants with a typewritten, four page reader's report. I was working as an adjunct at the time and was close to giving up on an academic career. This manuscript review nearly finished me. But I decided to give the market one more chance, and a year later was moving to Washington DC to begin a new life as an assistant professor at George Washington University. Oh the memories you find when you are purging files in your house in preparation for moving.
(This post is offered to anyone who has ever had a nasty peer review of their work. Remind yourself: we are in good company.)