“I have one of the world’s top temperaments, believe me. It’s right up there with Putin’s. He admires my temperament by the way–compares it to caviar. I say gold caviar. I have a hundred times the temperament of Hillary Clinton. She has no temperament really. My temperament is soooo presidential, I can tell you that. I can tell you that. When I am elected president everyone will have a temperament like mine–though not as good, obviously. I will surround myself with people of outstanding temperament, people like me. Nuclear weapons will be glad to be ruled by a temperament as wonderful as mine. So yes, I have the temperament to be president.”
When Wittgenstein said “the world is the totality of facts” he obviously hadn’t anticipated the “fictional turn”: the world is now the totality of feelings, fears, wishes, prejudices, allegations, insinuations, ideologies, inventions. I liked Bill Clinton’s simple contrast in his speech of last night: there is the “real Hillary” and there is the “made up Hillary”. I envisaged millions of people responding, “Say what now?” For many people “fact” is a four-letter word. Don’t bother me with facts I have my beliefs to consider!
I’ve written about a hundred book reviews in my life (I haven’t counted exactly) beginning when I was 22. I believe the book review is a valuable form and not easy to do well. I would encourage everyone to do them and take them seriously. It’s important in a book review to convey accurately and succinctly what the author has to say before offering any evaluation. Few books are perfect and many are defective in one way or another. When it comes to criticism two points are paramount: (a) make your criticisms as honestly and forcefully as is appropriate, (b) try to find redeeming features in even the worst performance. Point (b) is very important: hardly any book has no good qualities. Whenever you read a review by someone that contains nothing positive at all, but only criticism, be suspicious–the reviewer has an agenda or a vendetta or wants to look tough. A good reviewer must above all be fair, even when highly critical; so he or she should try to be positive as well as negative. This is not to say that that will always be possible compatibly with honesty.
I happened upon Kerry McKenzie’s review of my book Basic Structures of Reality recently and was struck anew by her final paragraph: “For me, then, the one pertinent question this work raises is why all of this went unrecognized [the badness of the book]: this book, after all, issues not from one of the many spurious publishing houses currently trolling graduate students, but Oxford University Press—a press whose stated aim is to ‘publish works that further Oxford University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education’. So why did they publish this? I can hazard no other explanation than that Colin McGinn is a ‘big name’, and if that is sufficient for getting work this farcical in print with OUP then shame on our field as a whole. As such, McGinn’s foray into philosophy of physics may in the end provoke a worthwhile discussion, if sadly one focused on concerns rather different from those he himself had in mind.”
This is an extraordinary passage if you think about it. McKenzie is implying that OUP, one of the foremost university presses in the world, published a book by someone that was clearly “farcical” simply because he is a “big name”. What exactly is she thinking? Is it that the editors there simply accepted the book without any expert review because of the “bigness” of my name? Surely she cannot mean that; and I can assure her that it is not true. Does she then believe that referees were consulted but that they recommended the book for publication despite knowing it was “farcical”? Or was it that they were so incompetent that they couldn’t see how terrible the book was? So they are either corrupt or incompetent. In fact, of course, they were experts in the field, and also anonymous. It is obviously inconceivable to McKenzie that they were neither corrupt nor incompetent but that they saw merits in the book that she cannot see. The fact that a prestigious press published the book after appropriate expert review is inconsistent with her highly negative assessment, so she makes reckless allegations against the integrity of the editors and referees. Did she not wonder whether perhaps she was missing something?
In addition, other reviewers, such as Stephen Leeds, had nothing like her negative reaction (which is not to say they were full of unmitigated praise): does McKenzie believe that they too are either corrupt or incompetent? Does she believe that the publication of my book by any press, and any favorable reaction to any part of it by anyone, should be reasons for shame (her word)? That does appear to be her stated position.
I wonder too what she thinks of the rest of my work: is it all this “farcical” or was this book an aberration? It seems unlikely that she could think all my work is as bad as she finds this book (I may be wrong), but then isn’t it a bit strange that an author with my experience and reputation should produce a book so woefully bad? Why that book and not others? Again, shouldn’t this reflection make her wonder whether she is giving the book a fair review? Evidently not.
But what is truly breathtaking is her self-confidence in condemning OUP and its referees for knowingly publishing a book this “farcical” just because the author is a “big name” (she should know that OUP has rejected other books of mine, so it can hardly be that they just automatically accept whatever twaddle I write). In fact, the referees made a number of suggestions for improvements that I followed (none of them anything like McKenzie’s criticisms). Does she really believe I could send OUP any old piece of junk and they would publish it knowing full well that it was junk? To me her accusations against OUP and its referees verge on the slanderous. They are certainly very poorly judged.
 I am quoting here from McKenzie’s website because I don’t have access to Mind, but my recollection is that this paragraph survived intact in the final published version.
What a great Wimbledon this year! I was glad to see Raonic in the final against Murray–with no Federer or Djokovic in sight (great champions and excellent guys, but enough already!). Andy really hit his form and showed that his best tennis is at least as good as anyone else’s best tennis. On a more sombre note I couldn’t help thinking, “England: gentleness, decency, fair play; America: violence, confrontation, win-at-all-costs”. Oversimplified, I know, but in the light of recent events (and not so recent) a thought it is hard to suppress. When is America going to own up to its love of violence and its belief in the act of cleansing violence that will put the world right? To put it differently, when is it going to grow up?
Listening to The Jam. A-bomb in Wardour Street (“Rape and murder throughout the land, and they tell you that you’re still a free man. If this is freedom I don’t understand, coz it seems like madness to me”). Nothing seems to improve. Evil is everywhere. Cure: the extinction of the human species. But the tennis at Wimbledon has been inspiring: Murray and Raonic in the men’s final. We take our comforts where we can find them.